Tamales at the Soil&Water Garden

On Saturday, August 18, Soil&Water garden held a cooking demo making and enjoying tamales.  A huge thank you to Dulce and Agustina for demonstrating their traditional method for making tamales using the corn leaves (not husks).  Everyone attending watched the demo, learned the recipe and then washed their hands to have a try at wrapping these lovelies.

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 Tamales really are a family event; always made in bulk with everyone pitching in to wrap them up. 

Tamales really are a family event; always made in bulk with everyone pitching in to wrap them up. 

We steamed them right at the garden! During tamale steam time, Jason held Dirt Detectives, a science activity using microscopes and magnifiers for the kids (and adult kids!). Here is the earlier blog post link about that event with a few more pictures below. Some of the things observed under the microscope were corn stems, cabbage leaf cross section, carrot root, sunflower pollen, dandelion fuzz, pine needles and bug parts. You're awesome Jason for putting this together, I loved this about as much as my kids.

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 As part of the scavenger hunt, the kids observed  sunflower pollen  up close using magnifiers. That is pretty cool but you can also bet that we take every chance to show them how amazing bees are. 

As part of the scavenger hunt, the kids observed sunflower pollen up close using magnifiers. That is pretty cool but you can also bet that we take every chance to show them how amazing bees are. 

Once finished, we enjoyed the tamales topped with fresh tomatillo salsa, cotija cheese and sour cream.  Minati and Dulce each made salsa using tomatillos and chillies grown at the garden.  These tamales were a vegetarian version but can be made any way you prefer to stuff them. They were so good!

We've also made it a regular thing to have infused water at most workdays.  It is easy to use a fresh selection from the garden.  This day's selections were cucumber & mint infused water and refreshing hibiscus tea. 

Thanks everyone for making this event so much fun!  It really is what this Soil&Water project is all about....  To bring people together around food and learning. 

And for those of you interested in growing hops, we are growing them! These cascade hops seems to be doing well.  

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Dirt Detectives – Garden microscopy for kids

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This weekend kids from Mountain View participated in a STEM activity at Soil&Water Garden called Dirt Detectives!

The kids were transformed into Dirt Detectives and used microscopes and magnifiers to explore the wonders of the hidden garden. They began with a scavenger hunt for items growing in Soil&Water Garden and around Heritage Park, including: 

  1. Corn stem
  2. Cabbage leaf
  3. Carrot root
  4. Sunflower pollen
  5. Dandelion fuzz
  6. Pine needles

The tool shed at Soil&Water Garden was transformed in a Dirt Detectives laboratory!

The Dirt Detectives then learned about the parts of a microscope and how to use the power of magnification to observe the plants growing around them. The kids learned how to identify different parts of a plant (epidermis, cells, vascular bundles), and how plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to create food via photosynthesis.

A fun time was had by all. We'll host more kid-friendly STEM events in the future.

More photos from the event in our Tamales and Microscopes album on Google Photos.

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Garden STEM activity for kids: Dirt Detectives!

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Explore Soil&Water Garden through the lens of a microscope.

At this hands-on workshop children of all ages will use microscopes and magnifiers to explore the wonders of the hidden garden. In this fun and educational STEM event kids will transform into Dirt Detectives and take a close-up look at what’s growing in our garden!

Our Dirt Detectives will begin with a scavenger hunt then observe the treasures they find under the magnification of microscopes. Our Dirt Detectives will learn: how to use a microscope to make observations, how to identify different parts of a plant, and how plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide and water to make food (photosynthesis).

All ages are welcome, and no equipment or registration is required. Come dressed for dirt and don’t forget your hat and water bottle!

Where: Soil&Water Garden
When: Saturday, August 18, 2018, 9–11am

Squirrels took our corn!

Squirrels can be a big nuisance (to put it lightly)!  We lost most of our tomatoes last year to the resident squirrels so we netted the tomatoes this year.  If you've been by the Soil&Water garden lately, you might have seen our stake and netting structure.  It helps with the tomatoes but that means they are eating other stuff.

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We have been excited about our 11+ foot corn.  We are growing a variety called Evergreen Sweetcorn, non-GMO white sweet corn, which was given to us by SlowFood USA.  The corn was doing really well with several ears on each stalk.   Some gardeners that attended a workday over the past couple weeks were lucky enough to have harvested several ripe ears.  We have been waiting for the corn to ripen for a big harvest but the squirrels got to it first!  Argh!!! 

Unfortunately on this past Wednesday, the squirrels ate every ear on 2 full rows of corn.  Gardeners arrived on Wednesday morning's workday to find stalks all over the place.  Those sturdy stalks providing the climbing structure needed to get to the tasty ears of corn.  What could they do but clean it up and harvest what they could.  How do squirrels figure out exactly when it is all ripe anyway?   

By Saturday's workday, the squirrels got it all!  Not an ear left in the entire garden!  We must have had nearly 100 ears of corn growing only to provide food for those thieves.  Sad.

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Companion Planting - Three sisters

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Companion Planting

Companion planting is the practice of planting two or more plants together for mutual benefit. 

Plants need good companions to thrive. Except for growth and fruiting, plants are relatively idle objects. They are rooted in one spot and don’t seem to have much control over their environment. In fact, however, relationships between plants are varied - similar to relationships between people. In plant communities, certain plants support each other while others, well, just don’t get along. Plants, like people, compete for resources, space & nutrients.

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So we plant some root crops, ground covers, herbs, bigger plants, and so on, all together. They’ll have different root systems and different above ground heights.

Some grow tall and provide shade and others hug the ground. Some are ready for harvest early, while others wait a while, even within the same food group, such as lettuces.

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With a lot of experimentation and observation, you can hit upon a collection of crops that work well together for your organic garden. But even without all the planning, simply by combining these plants, we get increased biodiversity and the benefits that come with that.

We’ll have reduced yields on some plants and others may not do well at all during the experimentation phase, but we should have better overall garden health and often improved yields overall.

Three sisters

Corn, beans, and squash are called the “three sisters.” Native Americans always inter-planted this trio because they thrive together, much like three inseparable sisters.

By the time European settlers arrived in America in the early 1600s, the Iroquois had been growing the “three sisters” for over three centuries. The vegetable trio sustained the Native Americans both physically and spiritually. In legend, the plants were a gift from the gods, always to be grown together, eaten together, and celebrated together.

Each of the sisters contributes something to the planting. Together, the sisters provide a balanced diet from a single planting.

 

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  • Corn. Provides a support for the beans.

  • Pole Beans. Provide nitrogen for the soil.

  • Squash. Leaves hug the soil to decrease weeds and evaporation.

This is an excellent example of vegetable companion planting. They all help each other, and they even work together to make a reasonably balanced meal.

Just these 3 plants show us that companion plants can act as a scaffold, improve organic soil fertility, and decrease weeds and evaporation. Some of the other benefits might be:

  • Attracting beneficial insects and other organisms

  • Decreased disease and insect predators

  • Healthier plants through symbiotic relationships

  • Increased overall yields

Three Sisters @ Soil & Water Garden

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Slow Food USA, is part of the global Slow Food movement and helps in transforming the way food is produced, consumed, and enjoyed word wide.  They have generously donated several seed varieties to Soil & Water for us to plant in the garden this year.  In particular, the 3 sisters are highlighted from their 'Ark of Taste' catalog


On Saturday, May 5, 2018, we were lucky to have Hillie Salo, Founder of the One Seed, One Community program, visit Soil&Water garden and share her knowledge of the 3 sisters and help us plant them.  We learned that there is no one way to plant this. You can basically come up with any grouping of corn, bean, squash that you would like to try.  We planted some in a grouping of several rows and some in a circle. We also had a few visiting gardeners from the Mid-west share their knowledge of growing corn.

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Article credits:

http://www.vegetablegardeninglife.com/companion-planting-charts.html

https://www.almanac.com/content/three-sisters-corn-bean-and-squash

Potatoes and Onions

This past Wednesday, we harvested our third batch of potatoes.  In February 2018, we planted Yukon Gold potatoes and Onion sets in the garden.  They have been growing for a few months and are now pretty large and ready for harvest.  A few weeks back we harvested our first potatoes and posted on Facebook about what we found with pictures (www.facebook.com/soilandwatergarden).  

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The onions became ready shortly after.  We stopped watering them one month prior to harvesting and are getting a nice harvest of those too.  Onions and potatoes make a perfect combination for so many recipes so we thought it was good time for a cooking demo day.  Two of our gardeners, Archana and Shruti demonstrated recipes on-site at the garden.  Shruti's recipe was a take on masala taro Punjabi style.  Archana made saag aloo.  Dulce shared a Mexican potato cake recipe.  We had a nice time chatting and watching the cooks.  Unfortunately, the electrical had some trouble during our demo so we weren't able to finish the saag aloo for tasting but we enjoyed the masala potatoes/taro and Mexican potato cakes!

Shruti's masala taro and potato

1) Peel taro root. Thinly slice potatoes and taro root. Put some olive oil on a griddle and pan fry the potatoes and taro. 

2) When the taro root is almost cooked, add sliced onion and cook for 1 minute as the onion begins to soften.

3) Add masala:  Chili powder(to taste), salt(to taste), turmeric(slightly less than salt), pomegranate powder(1.5 - 2 times salt), mango powder (1.5 - 2 times salt) and garam masala(about a third of the salt).  Some extra oil might be required to ensure that the masala gets coated evenly. Mix thoroughly to ensure that all the slices are coated with the spices evenly and cook for about 2-3 minutes till the masala gets incorporated.

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Indian Chai

Indian chai for many is part of a daily ritual to be enjoyed in the morning with breakfast.  It is also a warm treat enjoyed with friends.  Served with fresh snacks in the afternoon, it is refreshing and a lovely way to relax.  

The traditional drink is made with black tea, milk, ginger and spices (like black pepper, cardamom, and clove).   It is good for digestion and tea has a lower caffeine content than coffee.  It is easy to grow herbs in your garden that make fantastic combinations for chai.  In fact, at the Soil&Water garden in Heritage Park, we have planted many herbs that are great for tea.  Make sure you harvest some of these herbs next time you join a workday.  

Basic chai recipe (ginger): Add fresh grated ginger to 1 cup water and boil until you smell an aroma.  Add 1-2 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water.  Add 1 cup milk, chai masala (mix of spices) and sugar (optional) to taste.  Continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise. Allow the mixture to rise but not overflow the pan 2-3 times and then take off the heat.  Strain and enjoy.  Makes 2 cups.    If you don't drink milk, you can add a milk alternative of choice.  Almond milk or soy milk work well.

Here are a few other chai favorites from gardeners at Soil&Water:

Mint chai:  Use fresh grated ginger.  Use same method as above.  Add mint and chai masala (optional) at the same time you add your milk.  

Cardamom chai:   Use same basic chai method as above.  Add cardamom (to taste) instead of chai masala at the very end after removing from heat.   I like mine with a lot of cardamom!

Lemongrass chai:  Add fresh lemongrass and grated ginger to 1 cup water and boil until you smell an aroma.  Add 1 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water and 1 cup milk (or milk alternative), and chai masala and continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise.   Add sugar to taste.  Enjoy!  Adds a lemony flavor. 

 Fresh lemongrass and fresh grated ginger added to 1 cup water. Boil until you smell a nice aroma

Fresh lemongrass and fresh grated ginger added to 1 cup water. Boil until you smell a nice aroma

 Add 1-2 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water and 1 cup milk (or milk alternative), and chai masala and continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise.   Add sugar to taste.

Add 1-2 teaspoon loose black tea to boiling water and 1 cup milk (or milk alternative), and chai masala and continue to heat until the milk causes the mixture to rise.   Add sugar to taste.

 Strain tea

Strain tea

 Enjoy!!!!

Enjoy!!!!

 

At the garden we are also growing chocolate mint,  this herb added to black tea makes a really nice chocolat-y-mint black tea.  I personally add this alone without any other flavors since it is a strong flavor alone.   Works well as a simple black tea bag steeped in a mug and add the mint to it. 

What is your favorite chai recipe?  Please share so others can try it  too.  Leave it as a comment below!  If you decide to experiment with a flavor combination, I'd love to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

Curry Leaf Plant

On this past Wednesday workday we planted a small curry leaf plant along with a hops, rhubarb, and a kids bean teepee.   Things at the garden are starting to take shape for this planting season.  We'll post something soon about our planting design for this year's summer garden.

Gardener Minati shared the following story about the curry leaf plant she donated to the garden. 

Curry leaf plant

I have had this plant for over about 2 years in my patio, in a pot and would love to share some history about it!

I was always interested in adding a few Indian plants to my patio and was looking for some leads to buy these. I stumbled upon 'The Curry Leaf Man' on craigslist! The Curry Leaf Man is a San Francisco native married to an Indian woman. He was introduced to curry leaf by his wife's family. He decided to cultivate a few Indian starter plants like Curry leaf, jasmine, drumsticks etc from seeds / cuttings and donate all the money from plant sale to charity for kids education in villages in India. This was a win/win for me! I get to buy some cool plants and also get to donate! Apart from curry leaf, I also bought a couple other plants like lemongrass and jasmine. 

http://curryleafman.wixsite.com/curryleafman/about_us

I was pretty thrilled to find someone growing starter plants so close to home in Palo Alto! And I am happy that this plant now has a home at Soil & Water.

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Feb 21, 2018 workday- Biochar/IMO-1

We have been busy at the garden planting during our first few work days this year.  We have planted potatoes, onions, and blueberries so far.  It is so nice to come back to the garden and have stuff ready to harvest.  Our first week back, we harvested loads of kale and chard, carrots, and way more parsley than we know what to do with.  We donated this to the Community Services Agency in Mountain View.   We also cut calendula flowers to dry and will be using this later.

 Our friend Peter, the Biochar guy, came to the workday with a very curious Biochar-IMO experiment.  He brought with him a mesh bag full of a mixture of wood chips, grains (oats, wheat, barley) soaked in worm tea, biochar and an added IMO-1.  The idea is that you bury this in your native soil for 2 weeks and then dig it up and see what you get.  If it works, you will proliferate the indigenous microorganisms in your soil that help break down organic matter.  The method is taken from a methodology called Korean Natural Farming.  

Stay tuned to see what happens.    

DIY Peppermint Chapstick

We thought it would be really cool if we could use beeswax from our resident bees. The beekeeper, Todd Waltz, helped us out and donated beeswax that the little workers made.  We grew calendula flowers and made an infused oil.  Calendula oil is known for its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties.  We purified the wax, melted it down and combined it with our calendula oil and some peppermint oil to make chapstick.

Here is the recipe: 1/4 cup beeswax, 1 cup calendula infused oil, 20-25 drops peppermint oil

Melt the beeswax using a double boiler (or some form of).  Strain calendula oil to remove flowers.  Combine.  Adding the room temperature oil may re-solidify the wax.  If this happens, dissolve it again to get a homogenous liquid.  Add peppermint oil.  Mix and pour into tubes or containers of choice.  It will harden quickly as it cools.  

 

 

 Dried calendula flowers grown in the Soil&Water garden.

Dried calendula flowers grown in the Soil&Water garden.

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 Calendula oil: Strained the oil using a coffee pour over and filter

Calendula oil: Strained the oil using a coffee pour over and filter

 Room temperature oil added to melted wax.  It solidified immediately so we had to melt it again.  

Room temperature oil added to melted wax.  It solidified immediately so we had to melt it again.  

 The mixture stayed liquid long enough to fill the containers but then hardened quickly.

The mixture stayed liquid long enough to fill the containers but then hardened quickly.

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Garden to plate Cooking Demonstration

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Soil and Water is excited to host it's first 'Cooking Demonstration' at the Garden this Wednesday.

When:   September 13th, 2017
Time:    10am-12pm
Where:  Heritage Park
             771 Rengstorff Ave, Mountain View, CA 94043

Please come to the Garden and watch few gardeners use fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden to create a delicious meal.

Come and have fun and taste the food.
This is a free event. All are Welcome!.
 

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THE TSUNAMI OF SQUASH

As you can probably tell from our harvest pictures, the summer squashes are definitely coming in. Pounds and pounds of them. As problems go, “too much squash” is thankfully not terribly dire. I’ve heard the rule of thumb is one plant per family, unless you really like squash. If you’re not drowning in squash, try pollinating your plants by hand, because from what I can tell it has been paying off in our garden!

Why are they so prolific?! Well, it’s to do with plants trying to make seeds - if you remove the part of the plant making seeds before it gets all the way there, the plant… tries again! This is why deadheading a flower makes more flowers. Nutritionally, it’s the reason a summer squash (mostly water) is so different than a winter squash (lots of carbohydrates) - very similar plants, very different stages of development.

COOKING SUMMER SQUASH
 

How I cook thee, let me count the way! You can braise, roast, saute, fry, grill, boil, or steam these guys to great success. Many people like to turn them into long noodles, by spiralizing or slicing, for a veggie-sort-of-pasta. You can pickle them, too, if you like pickles. 

Grating them is also a great way to cook with them! You can use them in fritters, or in a fritatta. Putting them in baked goods (muffins, quick breads, or even brownies) is a very popular way of adding moisture and fiber, but more importantly, using them up. 
 

You can also eat the blossoms, if you want to shake it up. They’re often served stuff with cheese, or breaded and fried.

Honestly, I’m a fan of sauteing them as a side with dinner, because it keeps my house cool in the summer. But, you don’t have to be as lazy as me - see the bottom of this post for a bunch of links to recipes for inspiration!
 

TASTE TEST!

I decided to cook the main 4 types of squash that have been coming in, and compare them! All of these squash belong to the same species (Cucurbita pepo) but all all slightly different subspecies or cultivars! Cultivars meaning a plant variety that has been cultivated for human consumption, which I did not know before today.

 From Left to right:  Green Patty Pan, Yellow Crookneck, Zucchini (marrow, courgette), Yellow Patty Pan

From Left to right:

Green Patty Pan, Yellow Crookneck, Zucchini (marrow, courgette), Yellow Patty Pan

I sauteed slices of all 4 in a pan, with olive oil, salt, and pepper. They were all tasty, and the friends I roped into my experiment ate all of their squash, and could detect very minimal differences. We agreed the zucchini was a little more watery, the crookneck the sweetest, and the green patty pan having a lovely texture and vaguely green bean taste. The yellow patty pan seemed the most mature of all of them, and the most texture. 

They were definitely more similar than different in terms of flavour, so I say go ahead and pick based on shape or nostalgia! The zucchini offered the best shape for spiralizing into pasta. The patty pans could be hollowed out and stuffed fancily. One of my friends grew up with crookneck, I grew up with more patty pans, and we both found we slightly preferred them.

 

RECIPES

Here are a few recipes I’ve tried, and enjoyed! 
Quick Zucchini Saute - Smitten Kitchen

https://smittenkitchen.com/2007/08/quick-zucchini-saute/

 

Zucchini and Parmesan Topped Chicken - Hello Fresh

https://www.hellofresh.com/recipes/au-zucchini-and-parmesan-topped-57b4d87fb5793fb3038b4568/

 

James Beard’s Zucchini Bread http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/james-beards-zucchini-bread-56389932

 

Spaghetti with Tomatoes and Anchovy Butter, but with zucchini substituted for noodles

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/spaghetti-with-tomatoes-and-anchovy-butter

 

Zucchini chocolate chip muffins  http://www.wellplated.com/healthy-zucchini-muffins/

Kavita makes the following modifications to this recipe: 

-reduce the honey to ~2 Tbsp (Use either honey or substitute maple syrup) and reduce the brown sugar; since the banana and chocolate chips already add sweetness.   

-1 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour + 3/4 cup mix of flours (whatever I feel like: amaranth, teff, flax, oat, almond)  

Summer Harvest 2017

Here are few pictures of the Summer Harvest from our Garden. and more to come..

Create-your-own garden tote bag event

Soil&Water hosted a fun create-your-own garden tote event on June 24, 2017 in the community garden at Heritage Park. We supplied blank canvas bags, rubber stamps, paint, markers and stencils and you did the rest! It was a fun event for all ages – so much so that we repeated it on Wednesday! A great time was had by all and everyone got to pick some farm-fresh produce and bring it home in their personalized garden tote bag. Special thanks to Eva Reutinger from the Google Community Garden for the stamps!

Some photos: 

We have a new Soil&Water sign

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Check out our new Soil&Water Sign.  Andra McFarlane was the awesome artist that designed this sign.  Jason Kihl, a metal artist, cut this sign out of metal for us and drove it out from Arizona to hand deliver it to the garden.  Thank you both for all your work on this.  It looks pretty amazing in the space!  

Amaranth: an ancient grain worth planting 

 

Ever grown amaranth in your garden?  It turns out it is pretty easy to grow and is fairly drought tolerant.  It is a hardy, high yield producing grain.  The leaves and the seeds are edible. Young tender leaves are best for flavor and can be used as you would spinach or kale. The seeds can be soaked overnight and cooked as additions to cereals or with other grains.  I personally like to grind it into a flour and add some to anything I am baking.  It adds a nice nutty flavor. The grain is high in protein, B-6, and some key minerals like iron and magnesium.    

I thought this would be a great addition to the Soil&Water garden to see it growing and participate in harvesting it too.  

During our workdays last week we threshed and winnowed some amaranth to plant in the garden. This particular variety, rainbow amaranth, was originally shared with us by Common Ground Garden in Palo Alto. Soil&Water grew it at Viola's garden (a former backyard garden) and had held on to it for just such an opportunity.  

 

Last Wednesday, we took the dried stalks and threshed it using a hardware cloth mesh.  Threshing simply means to separate the seed from the stalk.  That was as straightforward as rubbing your hands across it.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To winnow (separate the seed from the chaff), we used a couple of bowls and allowed air to assist in the process.  We didn't need it to be too clean since we were just going to plant it.  
Seeds can stay viable for quite awhile so fingers crossed this seed grows because the seeds have been sitting around for some time.   

 

 

 

 

We broadcast the seed across one of the beds to plant it during Saturday's workday.  

This was a fun activity at the garden.  There was some debate about whether all varieties of amaranth are edible but after some Google searching it appears that most varieties are edible.  So consider including amaranth in your garden this summer and try it out.  At the very least, it makes an interesting looking flower!

Soil&Water Tomato planting workday

S&W had planned for a Tomato planting workday last week. We purchased different variety of Tomatoes like Cluster, many varieties of Heriloom, cherry tomatoes, Sun Gold and many more. We had many volunteers come to the garden to plant. 

 Row of Tomato plants

Row of Tomato plants

Our plan is to try out the 'Florida Tomato Weaving' technique. It is supposed to be a effective way of trellising tomatoes in a row. It is fast, easy and simple to setup, maintain and use the space efficiently during the growing season.

With the Florida Weave, the idea is to “sandwich” your plants between lengths of twine. The twine gently holds up the plants without the need for additional stakes and clips.
 

 Volunteers planting on the ground

Volunteers planting on the ground

For this year, we are planning on trying this method and see how successful it is instead of tomato cages. We will keep you updated on the progress with bunch of pictures in few weeks.

Keep following us and we will keep posting more pictures. 

The philosophy behind small-scale garden rows

If you've visited the Soil&Water garden, you might be wondering why we created a layout with mixed edibles in small rows.

"What's the philosophy behind small-scale garden rows, anyway?"

I thought it would be a nice way for people visiting the garden to consider ideas for planting edibles mixed together in a small space. If you have limited planting space at home – and who doesn't?! – how would you plant it? There are a ton of cool ideas out there for small garden plots, container gardening, even vertical gardens. (Check out this article on 16 cool raised bed designs from Sunset.com.) 

Our small-scale garden layout is based on an article from Sunset Gardens that plants mixed edibles in a 16' x 16' plot which came down to two main beds 11' x 3' approximately with beans and sunflowers along a back fence.

In the Soil&Water garden, our garden rows are 3' wide already so where two rows come to an apex was perfect to mimic the same idea. Thus I used their model for planting our small scale garden 'plot' with mixed edibles. 

Another reason this is a nice method is because you can consider companion plants, natural pest deterrents, even pollinator attractants in the plantings. I modified the design slightly based on veggies that made it on our planting list.  

The small scale garden was planted pretty early in the season (for stuff like tomatoes, squash, and eggplant) so another thing this will provide is a comparison of how these crops do with an early planting vs. regular suggested time.  

 small-scale garden planting of mixed edibles

small-scale garden planting of mixed edibles