Tag Archives: food

Tomato Mania

Why did the tomato blush? Because he saw the salad dressing.

Regardless of your particular take on the severity of upcoming food inflation, availability of certain food, importance of organic and/or non GMO varieties, the cost of ingredients at your favorite restaurant, or unpredictable weather for growing seasons, there is little chance that the future of tomatoes will not affect you. Continue reading Tomato Mania

Hydroponics With The Urban Pepper

A Step By Step Guide To Setting Up Your Own System


The Urban Pepper

I could only read so many articles about GMO processed foods, hidden inflation, just in time inventory systems and worldwide droughts before I came to the conclusion something was very wrong. In my opinion there are massive problems coming down the road and after much consideration it seemed the only logical thing to do was to start a garden and change myself. Easier said than done and I’m not there yet. But I progress step  by step and one day at a time.

The garden is a big part of my life now and I spend a great deal of time tending to it. I gave up TV, fast food (90%, not there yet) and I gave up drinking. What I do now makes me a happier person. Gardening has helped teach me patience and a love for all things.

If you want to get to know your neighbors better I highly recommend starting a garden. Having done so I now know all my neighbors by name and most of them have gardens as well. A new neighbor was walking his dog past my house and stopped to comment on my garden. We introduced ourselves and I gave him a couple of pepper starter plants. So gardens are a great conversation starter as well as common ground to build upon your local community.

After gardening for three years, mostly in containers and raised beds, I came across a video about Dutch water bucket systems and I was impressed. They were named "Dutch" because you build the system yourself. You can buy them ready-made for about $15 or you can build them for about $9 each.

The system is expandable so you can start off with just a few and add more at any time. I started with five on a covered porch that gets very little direct sun light. By building them myself I developed a better understanding of how and why they work so well.

Please note that the system must be installed under cover to prevent the rain from diluting the nutrient solution and it is best if the covered area is facing the sun.

Two gallon buckets and lids can be purchased at Lowe’s or Home Depot. You may be able to acquire some for free at local restaurants where they often discard them. It’s recommended that the buckets be darker in color to keep the algae manageable. The buckets I used last year are white and and they were fine.

Drill a hole about two inches from the bottom of the bucket to accommodate a 5/8’s Inside Diameter (ID) rubber grommet. This will provide a sealed hole for a 3 inch long ½ inch CVPC (plastic) tube.  Insert the tube through the grommet hole so half is in the bucket and half is outside the bucket. Attach two 90° elbows of ½ inch CVPC, one on each end of the tube, both facing down.

Cut a 3 or 4 inch hole in the bucket lid and cut a slit from one side to the other of the lid with the hole in the middle. This will allow you to maneuver the plant through the hole and slit in the lid later. You will also need a 5 gallon paint strainer net. This is used to contain the Perlite as explained below.  Place this strainer net inside the bucket, then put the modified lid on the bucket. The plastic elbow inside should be on the underside of the net. They should look like this when completed.

bucket buildingBucket Building

Once the buckets are done, it is time to create the water reservoir. I used a 27 gallon plastic storage tote, approximate cost of $10 at Lowe’s or $8 at Costco. The tote will house the water pump ($15), nutrient solution and air stone ($15). I prefer to use this type of tote (see image below) because it is easy to drill through. Place the pump in the bottom of the tote and drill a hole in the lid to accommodate the hose from the pump near the backside. Drill another hole for the power cord. Only one pump and tote is needed to feed up to 10 buckets.

tote w fill holeTote with fill hole and pipe installed to allow for nutrient water replenishment without removing the cover

27 gal tote w pumpsInside the 27 gallon tote with pump installed

You will need to drill a hole in the lid or the side to accommodate the ½ inch CVPC drain tube that will be connected to the buckets.

tote w pump and drain linesTote lid with pump and drain lines drilled and filled

Once you have all the holes drilled and everything is in place, you can connect the ½ inch CVPC drain tube with the ½ tee to the elbow on the bucket like the picture above. I chose the ½ inch CVPC plastic plumbing pipe because of the low cost and ease of working with it. You do not have to glue any of the CVPC plastic pipe and fittings together because it is used for drainage only and the pipe is not under water pressure. Space the buckets about 12-18 inches apart.

tote drainage set upTote drainage setup

Take the hose that is connected to the pump and run it along the backside of the buckets and cap off the end of the hose. Make sure the cap or plug is secured with a hose clamp because the line is pressurized. The thin black lines going into the top of the 2 gallon buckets are called feeder lines and these were purchased at a hydroponics store for about 20 cents each. They have pointed ends that poke through the pump hose fairly easy, or you can use a needle to start the hole. Push the feeder line into the pump hose about a ¼ of an inch. The hose will seal around the feeder hose by itself.

bucket set upBucket setup. Note the water reservoir/tote with pump and connections under the buckets.

At this time you should fill the reservoir with the nutrient solution. I use a product from the hydroponics store called Aqua grow bloom developer 9-21-12. The cost was $90 but it makes 2500 gallons, enough to last many years. I also add Miracle Grow organic choice plant food. The mix ratio I use is 1 teaspoon per gallon on both mixes and I use a 1 for 1 ratio of Agua grow bloom and Miracle Grow plant food. At this time fill the tote 1/2 full, then add 1 gallon of water and a table spoon of Epson salt to the tote. This will help the ph level. The solution should have a light brown tint. I think the hardest part for me was getting the correct nutrient solution. I had help from the guys and gals at the hydroponics store for that.

Finally, it’s time to test the system. Plug in the pump and air bubbler and check to see if there is solution coming from the feeder lines. Let the system run for at least 15 minutes so the buckets begin to fill. As the water level in the buckets rise to the level of the drain elbow in the bottom of the bucket, it will start to drain back into the reservoir.

This is where you will discover any problems with drain pipe leakage or feeder line blockage if there are any. Feeder line blockage can be fix by removing from feeder hose and blowing through it to clear any obstructions. Leaks around the CVPC connections can be fixed by making sure they are tight and fitted correctly. The system can not have any leaks what so ever.


Next fill the buckets with Perlite. Have a gallon of mixed nutrient solution handy during this process. If you are filling the buckets with dry Perlite, then add the nutrient solution to moisten the Perlite as it’s filling. Fill to about 1 or 2 inches below the top of bucket without the lid on.

At this point the Perlite should be soaked with the nutrient solution. Create a hole with a stick or dowel all the way to the bottom of the bucket. This is where your roots will live. Repeat this process with the rest of the buckets. This is why you only fill the water reservoir half way, because as you’re preparing the Perlite buckets, the nutrient solution you are using to moisten the Perlite will fill the other half.

ready to plant with perlite and holesReady to plant with Perlite and hole

When you put your starter plant down the hole in the center of the Perlite you want to make sure the roots are as clean as possible. You can gently rinse the dirt and debris from the roots. Once they are clean, insert the roots into the hole and use the the dowel or stick to gently push them down. Be careful not to tear them from the plant.

Then use the existing Perlite to fill in the hole where the roots lay. Be gentle while filling the hole with Perlite so you do not damage the roots and plant. You can now put the lid with the hole and split in it on the bucket. Gently place the hole in the lid around the plant, then secure the lid onto the bucket. If you don’t have a split in the lid, it’s harder to put the lid on and around the plant, also for fixing future problems as they arise.

plant in bucket w perlitePlant in bucket with Perlite

Place the remaining plants in your buckets and don’t forget to put the feeder line into the hole in the lid so the solution pours directly on the roots. There is a little stake that will hold the feeder line in place right above the Perlite in the center of the bucket. The little stake can be replaced with a 4" long piece of CVPC to hold and guide the feeder line above the roots.

An outdoor timer and power strip will cost around $20. Set them to run 30 minutes 4-8 times per day. I have 15 buckets plus a rail system that only requires 6 gallons of water per week for 20 plants. Another cost benefit is that you use Perlite rather than soil. A large bag of Perlite is $12 and will fill every bucket with some left over. The growth rate is awesome and the plants are healthier. With this system it takes the hardest part of the equation out of gardening. Watering in my opinion is the biggest challenge in gardening.

Another great benefit to a system like this is all the different variations you can create using the basic components and ingredients. I have three friends who were inspired by my setup and they all did different things with similar setups. The common denominator is that they all work.



 A Word on Indoor Gardens to Start Your Plants

I started an indoor hydroponics set up in November of 2013 because I always hear people talking about starting plant indoors out of season. I took a little drive to my local Hydroponics store and picked up a few grow lights. The two light sets I got were T-5 four bulb fixtures @ $140 each. Grow trays were $3 each and rock wool slab was $13 each. Each rock wool slab can start 98 plants and each light accommodates 196 plant starts. I turned one of the extra bedrooms into a grow room and now have 7 lights. I also picked up a little window AC  model for $60 to keep the room temperature constant. You don’t need all this stuff for one or two lights.

inside roomInside my indoor grow room

By starting the plants inside, it gives you time to prepare your garden outside.

I also grew lettuce inside during the cold winter months of Nov, Dec and Jan, which was real nice. I will grow the lettuce inside again when it gets too hot during peak summer heat. With one four foot light you can start 196 plant starts in two rock wool trays. Think about all the different variations you can create with just one grow light.

rock wool tray inside Rock wool tray indoors

I guess the entire point of this exercise is to ensure that I am growing my own produce in an organic environment. There are a lot of claims out there regarding organic produce. The only way to know for sure what you are eating is to grow it yourself.

lettuce insideIndoor lettuce

The Urban Pepper

Is Plan B To Turn Your Lawn Into A Garden?

If you are one of the many people who have a home with a lawn, but know something wicked this way comes, you may have said to yourself, "I have plenty of room in the yard, so I can grow my own food if I need to." I have heard this from a number of people lately.

Should this be your ‘Plan B’ for extreme food inflation or shortages, you might want to get a jump start on the work involved because it is not easy and involves a number of factors you may not have considered. I know because we are currently undertaking just such a task. Continue reading Is Plan B To Turn Your Lawn Into A Garden?


From Mrs. Cog's Corner

Microgreens are a brilliant concept. Having swept the scene of upscale restaurants and finer cuisine in recent years, the idea is now hitting creative kitchens everywhere. You might be hard pressed to find an easier way to naturally produce a more tasteful and nutritional addition to your diet.

Harvested less than two weeks after germinating, these young vegetable and herb plants are cut in order to consume just the stems and leaves. They have been shown in studies to contain as much as 40 times the nutritional benefits of their mature fruit or leaves. Studies have proven that microgreens are a wonderful source of Vitamins C, E and K and some are loaded with beta-carotene. This equates to the nutrition in a small helping of microgreens exceeding that consumed in multiple portions of salad.

Easy, inexpensive and abundant, there is no better time to become proficient in producing your own organic greens no matter where you live. Prices are rising, weather for growing is undependable and sources of food are often questionable. There is an immense satisfaction in producing something so healthy on your own windowsill. I encourage everyone to give it a try.

There are hundreds of good websites and videos out there with instructions on the many ways to go about growing your own at home. Everyone seems to have a slightly different method and makes use of various supplies, so there is no one right way to go about this. Here is a video that shows and explains an easy method to grow your own.

The recipes that use microgreens are endless. They can be used as salad greens, on sandwiches, in or atop omelets, on pizzas, in salsas, topped with seafood, and the list goes on. Yummly's recipes for microgreens can be found here along with delicious pictures. More recipes and serving suggestions can be found at the bottom of the page.

Read much more about different techniques and concepts to grow and serve your own microgreens:

They are bursting with freshness, intense flavor and are so vibrant and beautiful. They're also a wonderful and economical way to get lots of nutrition yet without requiring as much time and space as full grown veggies. http://thesunnyrawkitchen.blogspot.com/2012/12/how-to-grow-microgreens.html

Their flavors, which are amazingly diverse, evolve as their leaves begin the process of photosynthesis. Carrot microgreens taste just like the vegetable. Beet microgreens are earthy, while radish and mustard greens are spicy. Kale microgreens are sweet, and cauliflower microgreens have a mild pepperiness that’s appealing. Sunflower microgreens are nutty, and clover ranges from sweet to spicy. Teensy cress microgreens can range from mild to pungent. One great favorite of pastry chefs is “popcorn shoots”—that is, microgreens grown from popcorn kernels. They are very sweet, and their eye-catching yellow color is achieved by cultivating them out of the sunlight, to prevent photosynthesis and the production of chlorophyll. http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/02/24/growing-microgreens

Microgreens won hands down (leaves down?), possessing significantly higher nutrient densities than mature leaves. For example, red cabbage microgreens have a 6-fold higher vitamin C concentration than mature red cabbage and 69 times the vitamin K. http://nutritionfacts.org/2013/05/02/are-microgreens-healthier/ 

Scientific research now proves that these tiny seedlings harvested and eaten when they are just a few inches tall are a real superfood packed with antioxidants and other health-promoting nutrients. HealWithFood.org combed through recently published scientific research – as well as some older studies – to uncover nutrition facts for these young edible seedlings harvested at the cotyledon leaf stage, and is happy to provide you with this overview of the nutritional value and health benefits of microgreens. http://www.healwithfood.org/health-benefits/microgreens-nutrition.php

Crops that germinate easily and grow quickly include cabbage, beet, kale, kohlrabi, mizuna, mustard, radish, swiss chard, and amaranth. As many as 80–100 crops and crop varieties have reportedly been used as microgreens. Others that have been used include carrot, cress, arugula, basil, onion, chive, broccoli, fennel, lemongrass, popcorn, buckwheat, spinach, sweet pea, and celery. http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/cute-microgreens-are-more-nutritious-mature-greens.html

I’m so excited to share with you Scott’s latest hobby – actually my FAVORITE hobby of his (the other being Single Malt Scotch – bleh). We’ve converted an entire room that’s located right next to his greenhouse into his Mad Scientist Studio. http://www.steamykitchen.com/31718-grow-the-microgreens-mad-scientist.html

Regardless of their size, microgreens sure pack a punch concerning nutritional and medicinal benefits: Broccoli Microgreens, for instance, are full of vitamin C and Sulforaphane,  which contains anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, and anti-microbial properties. Sunflower Shoots  have Vitamin D, chlorophyll,  complete Proteins, and Amino Acids. Wheatgrass Juice offers several nutritional and medicinal benefits listed here. For example, wheatgrass juice can help increase red blood cell count, lower blood pressure, stimulate the thyroid gland, detoxify the liver, and so much more. Pea Shoots offer fiber, Vitamin C, Iron, and folic acid.  http://www.thehomesteadgarden.com/everything-you-need-to-know-about-microgreens/

No garden, No problem! If you've got a windowsill, you've got the space and light necessary to grow a variety of nutrient-rich micro greens. For those who haven't heard the term, micro greens are plants and lettuces that are harvested to eat when they reach about one to two inches high—well before they've grown to full size. To read more about why I always have a batch of micro greens growing and to learn how incredibly easy it is to grow your own, read my article on micro greens in the April issue of Alive magazinehttp://www.muffintinmania.com/2012/04/microgreens.html

Spiced Butternut Squash Tacos with Microgreens http://www.theheartskitchen.com/recipes/dinner-2/spiced-butternut-squash-tacos-with-microgreens/

Three Cheese Microgreen Arugula and Spinach Pesto: https://sites.google.com/site/dashandbellarecipes/three-cheese-arugula-and-spinach-pesto

Baby Greens with Roasted Beets and Potatoes: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Baby-Greens-with-Roasted-Beets-and-Potatoes-109744

Steak Salad with Microgreens: https://food52.com/recipes/28251-steak-salad-with-micro-greens

Microgreens Chicken Tower Salad:  http://urbanpaleochef.com/2014/04/19/micro-greens-chicken-tower-salad/

Quinoa, Pancetta and Pomegranate Microgreen Salad: http://garlicgirl.com/2011/07/23/micro-greens-salad-quinoa-pancetta-pomegranate/

More video links on different ways people grow indoor greens in their homes:



...and this video had us in stitches lol

Dry Canning Spices

From Mrs. Cog's Corner

In case you haven't heard, I love to can. Cog says I am a compulsive canner, but I swear I can stop any time.

I use this simple "dry canning" method to vacuum seal some of our dry goods. It works for dehydrated food, brown sugar and even spices. We get fresh spices in bulk as we are fortunate enough to have a family member work for a large spice company. Although it can be done with an electric Food Saver device, I have opted to get a hand pump (as shown below).

Here is a quick video that shows how easy it is to vacuum seal your jars.

As you may know, successfully storing food, especially dry goods, is a matter of regulating the moisture, oxygen, temperature and light. Storing things such as spices in a cool dark place after being vacuum sealed can greatly extend their shelf life. The longest I have yet tested is 5 year old Cayenne Pepper which still packed a punch.

With respect to spices, one of the nice things about packaging them this way is that I can choose the size of jars. As prices continue to rise rapidly for flavors I have always taken for granted, this is a wonderful way to share and give gifts. If you are not growing your own spices to dry and can, many are available at bulk goods stores such as Sam's Club, BJ's or Costco for a fraction of the regular grocery store prices.

April 21 2014 028

Please note: I am not referring to the method of "dry canning" that involves heating in an oven.

It would be wonderful to hear from any of you below with experiences in this arena.

Read More:

Many people tell me they are curious about making Salad in a Jar (vacuum-packed chopped lettuce) but don’t have or can’t afford a vacuum-pack machine.  A few months ago, I was elated to learn it can be done with a portable vacuum-pack machine costing around $20. But now I’ve discovered something even cheaper, thanks to my blogger friend Vicki. http://www.salad-in-a-jar.com/family-recipes/how-to-vacuum-pack-salad-in-a-jar-for-less-than-6-plus-a-video

Other methods: Dry Pack Canning is the process used to  store foods that have less than 10% moisture and are low in oil content. When properly done, these items will last a long time – maybe even 30 years under certain conditions. http://preparednessmama.com/dry-pack-canning/

I use my FoodSaver to dry can/vacuum pack the herbs and spices. (I know dry canning implies adding heat but since there should be no moisture and it’s not enough heat to kill anything essentially it does the same thing. Although I would argue vacuum packing is actually better because heat will help the contents of the jar deteriorate.) In this picture I’m vacuum packing parsley. http://arewecrazyorwhat.net/food-storage-storing-herbs-and-spices-for-long-term-storage/

My friends and I get together for a repackaging party. We use my Vac sealer to the package the herbs and spices into small 1 to 2 oz. packets. The packets are labeled and placed into clean #10 cans with a lid.   To really insure protection, you can remove the air from your canning jars by using your Vac sealer again.  You can also put your packets into clean mismatched jars that has a tight lid. http://canningandpreserving.net/preserving-bulk-dried-herbs-spices-and-baking-ingredients-long-term-food-storage/html