Friday, March 25, 2011

Seattle Market Photos

While the work in the garden isn't very visually exciting right now, I have some veggie/garden/landscaping related photos I took during our vacation to Seattle this past autumn.  For all of the photos, including shots from Penny Arcade Expo 2010 and the underground Seattle Tour, check out my flickr set!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Well, not much happened over the winter on this blog. To be honest, things died down quickly after my last post. Bugs and other garden pests ran rampant through my veggie patch beginning late July through the end of the season. The beans and tomatoes quickly stopped producing after this. The broccoli plants were a complete loss, though they did end up forming tiny tiny florets by the end of the season!  All in all, it was a great success for my first year of veggie gardening!

I have done quite a bit of planning over the winter, and I've got an ambitious attack plan that I just may be able to pull off. Here are a few highlights:

Growing plants from seeds - Already underway. I scored a 4 foot long grow light for my birthday and started quite a few seeds the 3rd week of February. Here they are about 1 month after starting.

  I had such success with sunflowers last year that I am growing 4 varieties in the garden this year, including teddy bear and vanilla ice varieties.  I've also got a plan to hand the useless back portion of our 'lawn' over to wildflowers. The wildflower seeds are on their way. I'm excited about this!  Aside from beautifying a particularly ugly and useless portion of our back yard, I'm hoping it will also draw beneficial insects. I'm also going to make seed bombs. They're like a magic flower spell, just very slow.

Potato skyrise!
I'm using these plans to try to increase my potato yield this year. I am still waiting on the seed potatoes to arrive from J.D. Landreth seeds, but I am building this in the meantime and finding a place for it in the garden.

More varieties of veggies
- including:
  • 3 varieties of paste tomato, to see which is most disease resistant for my area
  • kidney beans
  • snap peas <- first time I will be working with a pole variety of anything.
  • Watermelons! <- I really have no idea what I'm doing here, but I will give it a go.
  • Potatos
  • Blue Lake green beans
  • Broccoli, attempt #2
Puff pastry from scratch - Its not all gardening. I have been afraid of attempting pastry dough in general for a long time. Definitely think its time to get past that fear.

There is a lot to do over the next few weeks outside. Its still a bit chilly (even maybe some snow this weekend!) but last frost is coming up soon and I'd like to be ready to plant by the 3rd week of April. Quite a bit of pruning to do, pulling out dead plants, pulling weeds and cleaning out pots for new plants this year. I'm excited, and with all of the craziness going on in daily life right now, I'm looking forward to the energy outlet.

As a quick side note, we welcomed a sweet little pooch into our family in November! Her name is Mandy, named in honor of Benoit Mandelbrot. She's an energetic, happy, bold little 2 year old basset hound, and she has grown our family by leaps and bounds. I don't consider myself a dog person, but this drooper face melts my heart. <3

Sunday, August 15, 2010

In the Mean Time... Sunflowers!

 I haven't forgotten about the blog! :)  I've been hard at work in the back yard, and while things are progressing, visually there isn't too much to show for it yet. I've been doing quite a bit of foundation work, laying the groundwork (literally) for the new veggie and flower garden beds for next year. Its a lot of tilling, a lot of composting, and really doesn't make for great photography!  ... So I will distract you with more pretty garden sunflowers until I can give you something to show for all of my labor!

I did manage to harvest the seeds from one of the red sunflowers that was growing in my garden. My friend gave me seedlings, so I don't know what variety they are - but I now have over 100 seeds stored in an envelope for next year, and to hand out to friends. :)  Unlike the giant yellow beast you see above, the red sunflowers grow multiple smaller flowers. I think they're unexpected little things. Really fun!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Expanding the Garden: Veggie Section

Today I took advantage of the break from the scorching heat and did some heavy work in the garden. I have been scheming for a few months about expanding the garden for next year by getting rid of the useless strip of grass that was in the back yard. I schemed and plotted, and called in a landscaper to rip up the layer of grass so I could get a look at what we were dealing with underneath.

Before... this photo was taken in late June. As you can see, its pretty useless, as far as a grassy area goes. Not enough to play on, and obnoxiously narrow to mow. Its also already nicely boxed in by the cement border lining the driveway... a perfect expansion to the garden.

And after...  I know it doesn't look like much of an improvement, but at least we don't have to mow it! ;)

This is the back area, the farthest part of our property. We planted 2 evergreen bushes in the back that will grow to about 6 feet high for privacy. This, eventually, will be a flower garden with a winding stone pathway, a gliding bench, a trellis running up the side of the garage with flowering vines, thick hydrangea bushes and much more. But for now it remains barren. I'm turning my attention to the expanded veggie garden area first.

The dirt underneath the grass is pretty sad. Mostly clay, very dense and tightly packed. I don't think I'd have much success with a thriving garden in this environment so I did quite a bit of research online and came up with a plaAAAannnnn.... and here it is.

~~~ Fixing the Soil ~~~

Step 1: Add lots and lots of compost. This was much easier than expected. My township offers free compost that can be picked up from a few locations. After a bit of calling around, I found out one of these giant piles of compost was right across the street from my house! I packed up a few giant rubbermaid tubs and a shovel, and drove across the street. It took me 3 trips and god knows how many gallons of compost, but I finally got enough to cover the expanded veggie area only.

I raked the compost evenly over the surface of the sad, sad soil, then proceeded to turn the soil. Working in rows, I dug in a shovel full and flipped it over to the right of me. Get to the end of the row, move to the next, and repeat.  I found quite a few things in there - old plastic bottles, some aluminum siding, lots of rocks, and what I can only imagine are hunks of fence piping so deep in the ground that they decided to saw it off rather than extract it. I worked on one for about 20 minutes and realized why they were still there...and why they would remain so ;)

Step 2: Rake, rake rake. I took my garden rake and went nuts, breaking up thick clods of dirt, throwing out rocks and any weeds I could find. I tossed in some dried leaves that had been hanging around for a little while and leveled it off.  It already looks so much healthier!  All before & after shots are without water. Look how much darker that soil is! But I'm not done.

This area won't be used for veggie gardening until next spring, but I had to get it ready for the cover crop I am going to plant next week.


 Step 3: Plant the cover crop. I searched online and found that many varieties of clover are considered soil fixers - they grow over the autumn, winter and spring - and then they are tilled in to the ground 6 weeks before planting your crops. This does a few important things: Prevents soil erosion over the winter, and adds nitrogen & other nutrients back into the soil.  This isn't just a good thing to do in new areas like this, but its a great thing to do every year when you're done with your garden. Plants take quite a bit out of this soil, and this is an easy, organic way to add it back in without the use of chemicals. I chose Crown Vetch - its a clover that's commonly used for these purposes.

I bought the Crown Vetch Kit from  Silly domain name, but they sold the kit which includes a mix of crown vetch, some rye grass and an innoculant. I'm not entirely sure what the innoculant does... but it is suggested on more than one website when planting this stuff. So there ya go. That's the great plan in all of its glory!

Hopefully I'll get to the flower garden section next weekend, and do the same thing!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sunflowers, Carrots, Potatoes...and round 2!

Above is a shot of the first sunflower in the garden to bloom. I had 3, 1 of which fell prey to the recent thunderstorm with strong winds. It snapped at its base. These things are amazing. They're strong, voracious little things. They grow fast and tall.  I'm completely addicted. :)  My friend from work started this particular flower from seed, and now when I stand next to it I feel like I'm standing next to some strange flower alien! :)

I have also been getting the garden ready for the second round. So in preparation, I have been harvesting the potatoes and carrots in order to plant more in their place!  Here are photos of the harvest. First, the carrots.

At first glance, you'd think ... oh! That doesn't look so bad. But it was. Of the nice thick row that I planted, only 4 were viable. All were forked below the 2" point and one (the cute guy in the middle) looks like he's really gotta go. Haha. All in all these were not a big success. I attribute this to a few things:

I didn't till up the soil very well below the 2" point. I'm assuming it was too compact for the carrots to grow easily in - they hit a bump and just forked off.... or just didn't grow at all.  Secondly, I didn't thin them out very well after seeding them. This is one of the crops I am going to re-plant for a fall harvest, so I have a second chance to give these a go.  More practice is not a bad thing. At least my cat Jet enjoyed the greens - as he always does. :)  Nom nom nom.

The potato harvest, I have to say, I was completely blown away by!  I had dug up the first potato plant a few weeks ago to see what I could expect. I came up with 1 decently sized tomato and a handful of puny spuds (shown here being well guarded by Kali, the guard kitty). Considering I didn't hill up the potato plants as well as I should have - and basically neglected the things the whole season, I wasn't expecting much. But to my surprise, I started pulling up the plants to make way for the next round of planting, and look what I found!!!

Spud central!  These are all a great size - 16 of them in total. That's an average of 4/plant. As with almost every other veggie, I have great plans for next year to improve on the harvest, but this is a win in my books! I was not expecting this at all. Completely made my day. :)

Add to this well over 200 green beans, and well over 200 tomatoes, some thriving herbs - we've had a pretty good turn out so far. I'm not done, though. As I said, all of this pulling was in preparation for a second go round before autumn. On the list are:

  • Green beans: I found out I have bush beans, not pole beans!  And here I am all summer trying to tie these crazy things to a stake!
  • Carrots: I am trying a wildly different planting method for this next round.
  • Broccoli:  Have had NO success with my first round because I planted them too late. They're massive trees at this point and little else. I started bouncing around when I read I could plant in late summer for a winter harvest. Hopefully better luck comes with the cooler weather. :)
And that is all for now. I will certainly post when round 2 is in place!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Tomatoes! They live!!!

I have been keeping a close eye on the tomato plants, and while the crunchy leaves haven't regained their liveliness, they haven't seem to have gotten worse. The stems themselves are healthy and green, and this gives me hope!

But this post isn't about the crunchy leaves, this post is about tomatoes! They've started to ripen! Woohoo!

I've harvested 30 tomatoes so far with at least another 30 ready in the next week. I took a little advice from a random forum post on You Grow Girl, and I have been pulling the tomatoes from the vine JUST before they fully ripen.This helps keep the pests from eating the fruit. I've been placing them in a paper bag to ripen the rest of the way, and it only takes 3 or 4 days.

Here's the harvest so far, overseen by the guard case one of them tries to make a break for it. I pull them generally when they're the color of the middle pile. Fully orange and showing a decent amount of red blush.  The small pile on the far right were the few tomatoes that fell to the ground a little too early, but they're still salvageable. They'll just need a few extra days in the bag. On the left, they're more or less ready for sauce making. :)

I'm starting to learn a few things about buying transplants. The two tomato plants were bought at the same time. They were the same size and the same variety. The only difference between the two was that the one on the right already had some blossoms on it when I bought it.  It started to grow fruit a week or two after planting it.

I think when the plants start flowering, or growing fruit, they stop concentrating on developing stems and leaves, and focus on creating fruit. Seems plants can only focus on one or the other.  I could be wrong, this is only observational, but it also happened with my two strawberry plants. The one that didn't have any blossoms on it when I bought it grew large. I got very early fruit off of the other, but it was a puny little thing and never got any larger.

I'll keep this in mind going forward...but I also wonder, if a tomato transplant has blossoms when I buy it, can I prune them away to keep the plant growing a while longer?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Problem Solving and Bird Butts!

I have hit that inevitable point in my first garden's lifespan where I'm running into pretty obvious problems. I have been seeking help from some more seasoned gardeners regarding these problems. I don't have solid answers on any of them yet, but here are the issues:
Broccoli: My broccoli plants will not form florets - basically, all leaves and no broccoli. These beasts are getting to be about 3 feet high and not a bud in sight. They look otherwise healthy. Removed a few low lying leaves that appeared to be a bit crunchy, water them regularly...and .. just nothing.

All of the research I have been able to find online pertains to broccoli heads forming too quickly when the weather gets warm. This has not been a problem.  EG, over at Our Engineered Garden, suggests they might form heads when the weather cools down again. By that time they will truly be broccoli trees, but I'll tough it out and see if I get anything.

Green Beans: My green bean leaves are looking a little speckly, and have begun to form small translucent spots. My research on the internet says this is most likely a fungal issue, having to do with the frequent rain we've been having, and my hitting the leaves when I water them.

I've switched to watering at the base, trying to avoid the leaves. I also sprayed with an anti fungal plant spray, non organic - just something I picked up at home depot. Keeping a close eye on these guys.

They've given us just under 200 beans so far this season and through parties, and lots of side dishes, we've gone through all of them. Despite the leafy fuzziez, I do see new flowers forming for more beans, so this gives me hope.

Tomatoes: - The most worrisome of my problems. The leaves are getting a little yellow - a little brown around the edges. Top leaves and bottom leaves - across the board. The list of things that could be wrong:

* Poor soil drainage
* Sun scorch (been over 100 degrees all week)
* Some form of root rot because I planted where tomatoes were planted before?
* Nutritional deficiency?
* Under watering?
* Over watering?

These guys have me completely confused. I'm not sure why this is happening. I don't think its fungal, but to be sure I sprayed with the anti fungal spray. The fruit looks happy enough, growing bigger every day and 3 have turned orange. They do tend to drop off pretty easily so I handle the plant as gently as I can. I read to pick them slightly under ripe and let them fully ripen in a paper bag - to avoid pest damage to the fruit itself, so I have been doing that - and its worked out well. I'm going to look into adding tomato food (either in liquid or dry form) to them as soon as possible. I will be so completely bummed if I lose these plants!!!

In other news, there are 2 bird's nests in our grape trellis. I managed to catch the mama bird in her nest, albeit not at a flattering angle. I was out watering the garden this afternoon when I heard little peeps. Apparently, she's got little babies in there. She couldn't have picked a better nesting place. Its like living right next to the grocery store. :)  They're welcome to stay - as long as she doesn't get all aggro mom on me and start pecking my head when I go outside to water the garden.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Niblets of Garden Drama

I have been spending a great deal of my "garden" time the past few days researching flowers and other types of non food related plants. While the veggie garden is well tended, the rest of our yard is in a bit of disarray. Neither I nor my hubby know much about yard work or plants other than veggies. I don't know what to prune, when to prune, what's a weed, what to plant, etc. When I say I'm a beginner, I mean it!  So we have a lot of landscaping work that needs to get done - quickly. Its starting to get a little embarassing. I've been developing some concept boards for our back yard renovation, but I'll save that for another post when its much more developed. :)

Despite the recent floral fixation, I do have a few updates from the veggie garden!  The tomato plants are thriving. I recently watched a video posted by EG over at the blog "Our Engineered Garden" about pulling off tomato 'suckers' and rooting them - to grow more tomato plants. I had no idea this was possible!  If you're curious, check out his video about it.  I'm up to my eyeballs in tomatoes, as you can see from the photo - but I cut some suckers off and gave them to a friend to try and root. I'm excited to see if it works.

We harvested 48 more green beans, bringing the grand total up to 128 for the season so far. These things are growing at an alarming rate!  Some of the beans went into home made chicken pot pie, still more went to friends. I'm really proud of these guys. Had a little drama while harvesting the second batch.  Our garden is enclosed by some wire "fencing" - i use the term loosely.  Its pretty high and I caught my foot on the top of it while trying to hop over into the garden. I took a dive right into my bean plants!!!! Not to mention stomping on my 1 living onion in the process. Did a little clean up and I don't think too much was lost. The bean plants will survive, minus a few limbs. The onion on the other hand - may not.

I've had a tough time with onions, this first go round. I've researched and learned some things, but that's for another post. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Great Green Bean Harvest!

This weekend, a dream of mine finally came true. To my husband's great dismay, I am the owner of a hard workin' little garden gnome. I have named him David Tiberius Frack - Frack being the only hint I'll give you as its my last name. :) 

I think he has already brought a great deal of luck to the garden, as I came home today to find 80 fresh little green beans ready for the pickin'!  Its the first true harvest from the garden, and I couldn't be more proud.  I have successfully grown something edible. While my strawberries may fail, my onions may fail, my potatoes may fail - its pretty safe to say I grew me some beans. 80 to be exact, and many more on the vine not ready for harvesting.

A few are slated for some home made chicken pot pie tomorrow.  Must find some good green bean recipes. Anyone have some? :)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back to Basics: Fresh Basil & Garlic Tomato Sauce

With all of the tomato plants in my little garden reminding me that I will soon be up to my eyeballs in little roma tomatoes, I keep thinking about the super simple sauce recipe I stumbled across recently, and I thought I would share it!

I can't take any credit for it, myself. I stumbled across it while watching Anthony Bourdaine's techniques episode. Its not as much a recipe as it is a method; a way to coax those fresh little fruits into something of the past, something returned to again and again. Its all at once simple, bursting with flavor and heart warming... and you know exactly what's in it. Maybe I'm getting a little melodramatic about tomato sauce - but it really is that good. Just ask my hubby. He has to watch me eat the stuff.

It all begins with a pretty big pile of Roma tomatoes (or other sauce tomatoes of your choice). You'll need more than you think you do - I always use at least 15 and end up with slightly over a standard jar of sauce.

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, then quickly blanche the tomatoes by placing them in the boiling water for about 30 seconds - accuracy is not mandatory. Blanching the tomatoes is going to loosen the skin, making the much easier to peel. You'll want to look for the skin to start splitting on some of the tomatoes. Then you'll know they're ready to come out of the water.

Peeling will be quick work. The skin should be more or less falling off at this point. Peel all of the tomatoes and, with a knife, cut around the nubbin end that was attached to the plant. Then gently squeeze out any excess juice. Don't squeeze hard - you're not looking to turn them into tomato paste. Just try to eliminate the excess juice that is hanging out in the center of the tomato. I find that some have a lot while others don't have much at all. Place all of your tomatoes in a large pot on the stove. You want enough room to work in without making a mess, so don't skimp on pot size.  Discard the skins and excess juice.

Now is the time to mush. The first time I made this sauce, I used my potato masher and crushed by hand. It took quite a while, and by the end of it my arms were pretty tired.  The second time around, I got wise and pulled out my immersion blender. I highly recommend this option if you have one!  The blending is done in under a minute, and they're incredibly easy to clean.  If you don't have an immersion blender, an potato masher will work. Try coarsely chopping the tomatoes while you put them in the pot to get a head start on the squishing.

 If you've used the immersion blender, you will be left with a frothy tomato slurry. No worries. It will start to resemble something appetizing again soon. I promise. :)  Add a very liberal pinch of kosher salt, and turn the stove on to medium low heat. Let this simmer uncovered for at least 40 minutes. Again, accuracy is not required. If you'd like a thicker sauce, let it simmer for longer.

About 20 minutes before the sauce is done, you'll begin to make the basil & garlic infused olive oil. Grab some fresh basil and garlic. Be sure to have a guard cat on duty to watch out for basil thieves. Coarsely chop the basil and a hand full of garlic cloves. Again, season to your taste. It is very hard to go wrong with this, except to use too little!

Place a small sauce pan on the stove and fill with some olive oil. I use appx 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup for about 15 tomatoes. Place on VERY LOW heat, and add the garlic and basil. Add some freshly ground black pepper. Let this steep until you feel the sauce is ready. Its very important to keep the heat low - the garlic & basil will burn easily in this oil! This will infuse the olive oil with the flavors of the garlic and basil. You will be surprised how much of the flavor comes through in the final product.

When you feel your sauce is ready, its time to strain the olive oil into the sauce. I use a pretty low budget method and place a paper towel inside a colander. Pour the olive oil into the colander to strain out all of the basil & garlic bits. This method also makes clean up easy - just toss the paper towel.

Mix the oil into the sauce thoroughly - I use a whisk to get it all incorporated. Taste and see if the sauce needs any more salt (I usually do).

If you have old spaghetti jars, set them to wash in the dishwasher when you start cooking your sauce on the stove, and by the time the sauce is finished the jars will be ready to go. Pull them out of the dishwasher piping hot, and immediately fill with sauce - leaving a small amount of room at the top of the jar for air. Close tightly with the lid. If done correctly, the jar will seal and your tomato sauce will store for quite some time without going bad. The trick is to have very hot, sterile jars and lids, and to fill the jars while they are still hot. The cooling process is what causes the jars to seal.

And that, as they say, is that.  The process is very simple and yields such delicious results! Give it a try, and let me know what you think. :)

Side note: The cheese in the photo taken above is a delicious new cheese substitute my husband found at Whole Foods. Its called Daiya and is absolutely delicious. I have an allergy to cow's milk, so finding a decent cheese substitute has been a long and tasteless journey. For a long time I have used soy cheese, but find most of it contains the allergens in cow's milk I'm trying to stay away from in the first place!  Also, soy cheese leaves much to be desired in the texture department. If you're looking for a cheese alternative, give Daiya a try. It stretches, melts and tastes remarkably like cheese with no funky beany aftertaste! ... can I get a spokesperson's contract? ;)