I have been wanting to buy one of these mobile garden containers from Food Map Design for some time. The product is a few years old and has long been featured in Dwell Magazine, but the containers are finally coming down in price. And now with the holidays, you can get them for 20% off with free shipping.
The Food Map containers are environmentally friendly and made from all sorts of recycled material, but the design is top notch too. It looks sleek, is practical, works well in small spaces, and manages water efficiently. The growing container has a special rippled bottom that helps water drain evenly but also retains water to maintain soil moisture. You can see the design description here.
There are two versions of the this container for sale. One is the taller adult size, but there is also a shorter one that is great for kids. It stands a little over 23 inches tall, which is a perfect height for children. And that’s what I really like about this planter: kids can take ownership of it. They can plant things at their own height and move it around as they wish. Of course, being movable also lets you manage sunlight better too.
With the 20% discount, the planter will still cost $119, but when you consider that a good quality garden container will cost $50-60, it doesn’t seem that bad. There’s no better time to think about spring planting than in the dark of winter (that’s called optimism up north), and it is always good to plan ahead when getting kids involved with the garden.
I’ve been thinking about buying a dwarf Meyer lemon tree for the house. I used to have a lime tree several years back, and I think another citrus tree would be a great plant to have around for kids. There is just something magical about seeing citrus trees grow bright colored fruit.
Sure, kids don’t usually care for the taste of tart lemons, but I think this is even more of a reason to get a lemon tree. They can appreciate lemons in a different way before their taste develops. Meyer lemons are also sweeter and less acidic, so if there is one lemon that might appeal to kids, this might be it.
Raising a fruit tree is also a great lesson on growing food and a nice change of pace from regular veggies. During the winter months you can also teach about pollination. Since there are fewer or no bugs in the winter, you can pollinate the tree yourself using a paint brush. I think that would be a great activity to learn about plants and nature.
When buying lemon trees, try to buy a tree that is 2-3 years old. They will cost you about $40-50, but will also provide a better start for flowering and bearing fruit. There are many sites on the internet that sell dwarf Meyer lemon trees and other citrus plants, so shop around. Four Winds Growers, however, seems to have good prices and also offers winter shipping for $5 extra. Other growers only ship at certain times during the year.
Of course, you will also need to learn how to care for the fruit tree, especially if you reside outside the growing zones normally associated with citrus fruits. But that can be the fun part too. There are many resources on the internet to give guidance, and if you choose the right tree, it can be a great household plant. And by the way, kumquats are also easy to grow and make good house plants.
These metal utensils from the Italian company, Italesse, are stylish, recyclable and pack up well. The aluminum flatware was designed by Tomas Alonso and takes up minimal space while being exceptionally light weight. For some good pictures go to Alonso’s site linked above, click on ’stamp cutlery’, and then click at the bottom to see more images. The story about the design process is pretty interesting to read through too.
These utensils simply stack on top of each other, and there is a little clip that holds the spoon, fork, and knife together for organization. They sort of remind me of the utensils from an old Army mess kit that I have, but these look much nicer. They’d definitely be perfect for camping or some outdoor entertaining. Alonso bills them as reusable/disposable, but the designer also hopes that people will use them more than once. Regardless, this is disposable flatware to be proud of.
Unfortunately, I cannot find these products for sale in the US or Europe, but hopefully Italesse will roll them out soon and some vendor in the US will pick them up.
As camping season approaches, I thought this outdoor cookware set would be perfect. The MSR Flex 4 System Cookset provides enough cookware for four people, and the dishes nest nicely within each other so that they don’t use up valuable space.
Another nice feature is that two of the plates are smaller and made to fit inside the smaller pot if you just want to go double (or solo). This way you don’t have to take all the pans for smaller outings. The plates also protect the interior of the pots from scratching as the smaller pot has a non-stick surface.
The set also has strainers built into the pot lids, which is handy, and includes one 5.3 liter anodized aluminum pot along with a smaller 3.2 liter non-stick aluminum pot. For eating and drinking, there are four deep dish plates/bowls and four insulated mugs with removable cozies. The set also comes with removable Talon handles for the pots that will clamp nicely to the lid to secure the dishes when all packed up.
You can buy the MSR Flex 4 Cooking System at Amazon for $128 (free shipping). And if four settings is too much for you there is also a smaller MSR Flex 3 System for $104 and an MSR Quick 2 System for $100, built for three and two persons respectively. These sets also have smaller cooking pots by the way.
All in all, I think these are well-designed sets for the outdoors. They are very functional and flexible — and look great too.
In central Minnesota it finally got warm enough to grill out, so I decided to make a cedar-plank grilled salmon. It was nothing too adventurous, so I wanted to find a recipe with a twist to it.
Eventually I found this recipe for a pinot noir infused cedar-plank salmon with some fresh herbs on top. The recipe calls for soaking the plank and wood chips in a pinot noir and water mixture before grilling. That sounded pretty good, and it is always a nice idea to start the grilling season with a lot of smoke to let the neighborhood know that winter is over.
I used a baking sheet to soak the plank in the wine-water mixture, and a measuring cup filled with the wine mixture and wood chips to weigh it down. I soaked everything for about 2-3 hours. The wood chips I used were organic golden alder chips that I bought from Maine Grilling Woods. They have a nice selection of wood chips for smoking and were featured in Food & Wine in June of last year. The Food & Wine article also gives 20 grilling tips, which are handy to review before grilling season really starts.
I pretty much followed the recipe to the letter, but I did marinate the salmon longer in the wine-water mixture and sprinkled some kosher salt and freshly ground pepper on the fish before putting it on the grill. Also, because I bought a rather large center-cut piece of salmon, it took around 20-25 minutes to cook instead of 15 minutes as the recipe calls for. The marjoram, thyme and rosemary were also a nice touch on top.
The end result was really amazing. I had never cooked with wood chips before, and I can’t say exactly how much the pinot noir influenced the taste, but it was so good that I don’t think I would change anything the next time. In the end the hardest part of the meal was sacrificing a bottle of red wine to season the wood, but the result was definitely worth it.
Pumpkins are everywhere right now, and twice this week I have seen pieces on giant pumpkins. This pumpkin to the right was grown by Chris Stevens from Wisconsin and was featured in an article in the Star Tribune on 10 October. The pumpkin weighs 1,340 pounds.
I am not sure what the fascination is with giant vegetables, but this time of year big vegetables are king. Maybe Stevens is right when he said that “nothing turns a grown-up into a child so fast” as seeing a giant pumpkin. Big vegetables recapture that moment of childhood fascination when you see something grow and it turns from seed into something completely different. But as adults we have lost a lot of that fascination, but super-sized veggies still bring it out in us.
I remember one time when I was young, a carrot survived both the fall extraction and the northern winter, and then it just continued growing through the next year. When I finally pulled it out, it was bigger than my arm. I’m still fascinated by that carrot and think about when I plant my own carrots.
But the realization of how popular ‘garden giants’ are hit me several years back when I was driving through Arkansas. After seeing a bullet-riddled sign advertising “Hope, Arkansas: The Childhood Home of Bill Clinton,” I decided to make a pit stop and check the museum out. At the Hope Visitors Center and Museum there were two types of items displayed prominently: (1) Bill Clinton paraphernalia and (2) pictures of giant watermelons. And the melons did more than compete with the former president, they were the star. Here is an article on the Hope Visitors Center that talks about it. I can’t remember one thing I saw about Bill Clinton, but I still remember the watermelons.
So back to pumpkins. Here are some interesting facts and tips on growing huge pumpkins taken from the article.
- Giant pumpkins cannot be entered in more than one weigh-off contest and they can’t have a crack in them. Those are the rules.
- The pumpkin above gained 1,200 pounds in 40 days.
- Pruning the vines is key to ensure there is only one pumpkin being fed, and the vines can consume 600 square feet.
- It takes about an hour per day in care to raise these pumpkins, and they need to be covered on hot days.
If you need seeds to grow giant pumpkins, howarddill.com sells seeds for the Atlantic Giant variety of pumpkins. The late Howard Dill from Windsor, Nova Scotia was a legendary pumpkin grower and his site is still up and running and dedicated to growing large fall vegetables.