Monday, January 26, 2009


We've finally got all of the trellis poles in the ground and now they're just waiting for me to string the bailing wire. Note: bailing wire smells. Then I have to go get more manure and plant the actual brambles. They've started sprouting leaves in their pots. Time to crack down and get it done I guess.
Allow me to take this time to describe the difference between everbearing and june bearing raspberries. June bearing raspberries bear fruit in june -whodda thunk it?- and continue to produce through the early summer. While everbearing produces a crop of fruit on old canes in june and then another crop on new canes in late august or early september. The second crop continues producing until the frost. In addition to boysenberries and blackberries we will be planting heritage raspberries this year. Heritage is an everbearing type. Since it will be the plant's first year in the ground I don't know that we'll get an early summer crop, seeing as there are no old canes. I've read that many farmers cut back the everbearing types opting for only one harvest in august/september. I doubt we'll do that. Although I've toyed with the idea since we also have blackberries and boysenberries. It would be nice to get a large crop of raspberries all at once for jamming. I'm going to see what kind of berry output we get with the three bushes and adjust accordingly for next year. I thought three bramble fruit bushes would be plenty but while perusing the burpee catalog I saw that one order of raspberries equals five plants. Maybe three isn't as many as I thought. They'll grow and spread over time, sending up new shoots, so I'm not too worried. I'm sooo excited for these berries!!! A small container in the store runs upwards of 5 bucks, so to have them right in the backyard, in abundance -fingers crossed- will be a blessing.

And speaking of berries, all 15 sunberry starts have sprouted, some already have "true" leaves! -the first two leaves on a seedling are technically considered the seed casing. I'm impressed that all of them have sprouted. When after 10 days we only had one, I started losing hope, but now all of them are on their way towards berry production. Information about the sunberry is pretty limited, although last week I did discover that it's technically a cross between brambles, which is strange since it looks and tastes almost exactly like a blueberry. I'm not sure what growing conditions it likes, or whether it will produce fruit in it's first year. It's going to be a trial and error summer with the sunberries.
Moving on. Requesting more seed catalogs this "late" in the season was a big mistake. I had my garden all planned out, but now have my eye on carolina cross #183 watermelon seeds. The melons can grow up to 200 pounds!!! I doubt they'll get that big in my yard...maybe if I put them in the grow heap... I don't know where my obsession with giant produce came from or why I have it in the first place. Must be the freak factor. One thing is certain: these seed catalogs will be my undoing.

Hope everyone is doing well!
P.S. these white currants make me very jealous of cooler climates! I wish we could grow them here, and gooseberries too! Don't they look so refreshing?!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Recent Happenings

Hey all! Sorry it's been so long since I've posted anything. I've been trying to whip the house (and garden) back into shape after being sick. Also my nights have been taken up with other things, so the blog suffered. But I'm back.
I finished planting all of the strawberries and mulched them with pine needles. We are now getting a pretty steady crop of lettuce and other greens. Yesterday I broke down a huge stack of cardboard boxes that we had in the garage. I used the cardboard to cover a plot on the right side of the yard. It's very weedy and I'm hoping the cardboard will smother out at least some of the weeds before I have to spread some manure there in March. I planted last year's green bean trellis with some Green Arrow Peas from Seed Saver's. I'm using them as a test to see if Fusarium was really what plagued the beans. If the peas succumb to a similar fate then the answer will be yes, it was fusarium. Unless this strain of pea is fusarium resistant, in which case I'm screwed, but we will have peas. So it works either way. That's pretty lazy gardening right there.
Yesterday I also propagated (or attempted to propagate) seven new lavender plants. I only have one in the yard right now. I took a woody cutting from the existing plant and pulled off seven side shoots. I dipped the shoots in rooting hormone and planted them in little terra cotta pots full of planting mix. They should root in the next four weeks. You're supposed to propagate lavender in the summer, but whatever. I'm hoping that the climate is mild enough to allow for this winter propagation. I'm keeping them on the kitchen windowsill. I would love to have millions of lavender plants. If these take they are destined for the front walkway. It's in pretty sorry shape, some big lavender bushes would go a long way towards sprucing up the place.

Last saturday I bought echinacea seeds at henry's while grocery shopping. That recent bout with the common cold spurred me to consider more herbalist remedies. I'll probably end up planting them along the front pathway as well. Hopefully the next illness will find us prepared with echinacea leaf tea.

The seedlings I started a little while back are doing amazingly well. Almost everything has popped up. Meaning we will have quite a few tomato plants this year, and sunberry bushes and basil.
On Saturday Greg started digging holes for the bramble trellis poles. It is not going well. Greg really hurt his back. We're pretty sure we've hit solid (read: not decomposed) granite. And the holes are only half as deep as they need to be. I don't know what we are going to do.
On a happier note I found clothes pins at Payton's Hardware here in Lakeside. Pretty cheap, I think it was three bucks for a bag of fifty. I fashioned a clothespin holder out of an empty milk gallon by cutting a hole in the side directly under the handle, then severing the handle at the base. The handle slips right onto the line and the pins go in (and out) of the hole. Brilliant!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fancy Book Learnin'

I've been feeling sick-ish since Monday and last night I finally succumbed to a head cold. I tried to convince myself that it was just allergies, but it was not to be. I'm very blessed and Greg took the day off of work to take care of me and to look after Jonas. I'm feeling better already, maybe it's the dayquil or maybe it's the gallons of fresh orange/carrot juice Greg has been making for me. Bless his heart, he loves that juicer.
So in lieu of actual work I spent the day reading gardening books from the library. I'm really into herbs lately. I have a large plot reserved for herbs this year, as opposed to the small plot and containers I've been keeping them in. I'm also going to convert the strawberry pot -a large terracotta deal with a bunch of side holes- into an herb pot, I just think it'd be cooler with all sorts of things coming out of the holes instead strawberry after strawberry. And now for something completely -ok slightly- different. Lavender is a plant I would love to have more of. I have one that I planted last year, it's still rather small, probably because I don't water it often enough. I read today about propagating different herbs from cuttings. I'm so excited to try it out. Especially on the lavender. I would love to have little sachets of lavender flowers in our dresser, and lavender linen spray for bedding and such. How lovely. Also the plant attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Not that we need any more hummingbirds. There's a second hummingbird nest in the purple tree. What fun. But I digress. The book is called, A Handful of Herbs by Barbara Segall, Louise Pickford and Rose Hammick. The pictures in the book are very inspiring. Though one strange thing about the book is the amount of herb descriptions containing the caution: avoid when pregnant. Parsley for instance, who knew? Probably Siobhan. P.S. I've decided to keep the rosemary in it's container for now. Those things can go kind of crazy when given the run of the land. And speaking of rosemary, there's a really awesome rosemary bonsai at the garden center. I'm going to try and start my own bonsai from a cutting. Wouldn't that be adorable?
And now for something completely different, for real this time. Potatoes. I read in a separate book, that you can use unfinished compost or mulch instead of soil to hill up potatoes. This changes everything! I hate piling soil onto potatoes because 1: it erodes away so quickly (and yes you can shore it up with a tire, but sorry I don't have any spare tires around and have yet to expend energy on an alternative). and 2: the soil has to be bought. I hate buying soil. Paying for what is, essentially, fancy dirt, doesn't thrill me. (this is also part of why I stopped buying manure, money for poo, are you kidding?) I'm pretty sure it's too late for potatoes here, and I don't have ground available for them anyway year. If you are interested in growing potatoes you can buy seed potatoes from many sources, Seed Saver's Exchange has lots of cool ones. Or if you're looking for a cheaper alternative just buy the type of potatoes you like at the supermarket. Some may have been treated with a chemical to retard their growth, but it will not inhibit them entirely, so plant 'em, and save some of their harvest for next year's chemical-free seed potatoes.

Couldn't resist. That's all I can think of for now. Take care guys.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gardening Experiments

Earlier in the week I listened to my favorite pod-cast, The Alternative Kitchen Garden. In this week's edition of the pod-cast, the host Emma discussed various gardening experiments she has tried and those she will be trying in the future. It got me think about different experiments I've tried. Prior to this I really hadn't thought of them as experiments. I don't know what I considered them, but experiments seems to fit the description.
An experiment I tried last year was the potted pole bean trellis. I read in "The Bountiful Container Garden," that the roots of green beans only go down six inches, so they can be grown in relatively small pots. I discussed this idea with my father-in-law and the idea for the trellis was born! I bought 14 1 gallon pots at the nursery and a ton of garden twine. Between two patio posts I strung twine, from top to bottom, in rows at 5 inch intervals. Then I affixed 1 string of twine per pot, going from the top of the patio awning down to the pot. Is this making sense? The beans grew great on the improvised trellis and reached the top in no time. I didn't get many beans because of blossom drop due to high temperatures and humidity. And after the blossom drop passed the plants were overtaken by fusarium wilt. I mulched the pots with manure from the north, it carried the fusarium virus and all of the plants succumbed to it. Fusarium wilt is incurable and once it gets into your soil there is no way to get it out, it can lay dormant for decades. So I'm thankful that the infected manure went into pots and not the ground. I'm going to try the green bean trellis again this year, and reccomend it for any one planning a container garden or looking for a pretty wall screen.
The next experiment is one I'm trying for the first time this year. I actually got this idea from Emma (she of the alternative kitchen garden). We have an abundance of cardboard and paper in this house. I've decided to try a predominantly cardboard/paper compost. Of course I'll put some high nitrogen materials (like grass) in to kick start and speed up the process. But for the most part it will be torn up cardboard. I'm using a large cardboard box to house it and we'll see how it works out. If nothing else, at least it will begin to break down so that it can be added to the normal compost incrementally.
And now for an experiment that didn't go so well. Companion container gardening. Last year I tried to grow lemon ball cucumbers and a tomato in the same container. The idea being that the tomato would grow upwards and the cukes trail over the side. Ideal because the tomato and cucumber, though related, share very few of the same pests. What happened was the tomato took all of the water and the shallow rooted cucumber thirsted to death. I draw the line at watering something several times a day. Had it not been for that experiment I may never have tried the lemon ball cucumber. Which would have been a mistake. They are amazing! I had to buy six starts so quite a few went into the ground. They are very drought tolerant, very cute, very prolific and very tasty. I'm growing them again this year, of course. I'm really excited to juice them. We has sooo many last year I gave them away to neighbors. Some, oddly enough, wouldn't take them because they didn't look right. Apparently if it's not long and dark green it's not a cucumber. Whatever people.
Last year I also trained a container summer squash to a trellis. It was so cool! A ball zucchini is what I think it was called. Most summer squash trail and like to be trained upwards but some don't so before you go trying this make sure the squash is a trailer. If the plant sports some curly tendrils it's a good sign it'll train well.
I hope this post inspires you to be experimental and try some new and different things in your garden. Who knows what you'll find? If you've got a neat experiment story I'd love to hear it. Til tomorrow, people!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

All In A Day's Work

Where does the day go? I meant to get so much done today and comparatively accomplished very little. My to do list looks so pathetic, so many boxes unchecked. But tomorrow is another day. I guess I'll focus on the things that did get done.
I raked up a ton of pine needles from the lawn and laid them down as a mulch for the 5 in-ground strawberry plants. I also raked enough needles to fill a bucket, to be laid down later when I put the other plants in. I was going to get myself some straw to mulch the bramble berries but, in keeping with the use-what-you've-got theme I think the pine needles will work just fine. Nay, better! I picked spinach and emptied some buckets of last year's soil. Found a nice collection of fat, disgusting grubs and squashed them. I'm planning on growing all of the tomatoes (except those slated for the compost pile grow heap experiment) in buckets this year. The one's in buckets did so well last year and were not systematically destroyed by japanese beetles. Which is more than I can say for the in-ground tomatoes. Looks like we'll have quite a few tomato plants, most of the seedlings have come up and I'm keeping my fingers crossed for the rest.
A few days ago I tried to plan out meals we could eat once the garden starts producing and the eggs start rolling in from arranged barters. We've been trying some of the meals, to make sure we like them. Tonight we had a frittata with spinach, canned tomatoes, onion, and parmesan cheese. It was delicious. I can only imagine how much better it will taste with fresh from the garden tomatoes or roasted tomatoes (I love making those!!!) The frittata is perfect for our meal plan because it can be adjusted for year round enjoyment. When we are inundated with zucchini, we'll have zucchini in it, and when we have lots of spinach, spinach, or tomatoes or peppers. See how it works? So many possibilites. I'm also looking forward to including lots of fresh herbs in the dish.
To make the frittata all you do is saute a bunch of vegetables in a 10inch pan with some oil, beat about 6 eggs with a little milk, pour that over the top of the vegetables, cover, turn the heat to low and let it cook until the top is set -about 6-8 minutes. I sliced it into wedges, not unlike a pie, and we ate it with some toast. I'm excited to eat this with a side of berries or melon in the summer.
Today I was determined to set up a clothesline. Amanda has reinspired me. We had one set up last year, essentially a thin rope strung between two patio awning posts. I took it down when I set up a hemp trellis for bucketed green beans last year. All the beans died of fusarium wilt, which is pretty much karma for using the dryer so much (and buying fusarium riddled manure from back east). The trellis remains so I'm at a loss as to where I should string up the new line. I'd like to put it up in the basketball court area but am lacking a second pole. What's a girl to do? Also, where can you buy clothes pins? Last year I just draped. I've looked several places and I'm still pin-less.
Til next time.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I'm A Sucker For Free Poo

Today was a very productive day in the garden. I turned the composts this morning, and planted lots of lovely things in the "flower" box outside my kitchen window. I planted beets, bunching onions, lovage, cilantro, parsley, thyme, and dill. We'll see what takes. The police helicopter started circling our neighborhood looking for a shady character so I decided to take Jonas inside.
After Greg got home from work I went to the nursery and bought twelve strawberry starts. This is the third year we are trying strawberries in our yard and I'm confident that it's going to work this time. There was a somewhat pleasant surprise at the nursery, the bramble fruits I had ordered online a while back had come in...a month early. And here are Greg and I, still without a trellis. Greg, being the wonderful husband that he is, immediately called his dad and arranged to get a trellis set up on friday. Roughly the trellis will be wire strung between two 4x4 posts established in the ground. There will be one long trellis for the raspberries and boysenberries and then another for the blackberries on the other side of the pathway. I'm really glad I decided to pre order the brambles, the plants I received look a million times healthier than the stock the nursery had on hand.
After the nursery I drove out to a horse boarding place and shoveled some free horse manure that was laying in a pile by the side of the road. I shoveled it into big trashbags and heaved it into the trunk of our corolla. When I got home I let Greg lug it to the back yard. He asked who helped me get it into the car. I eventually convinced him that I did it by myself. They were pretty heavy bags. I guess I'm getting stronger. Must be all that compost turnin'.
At home I spread the manure in the berry plot. I was going to plant the strawberries so that they form the front border, but decided that the manure should probably cure a bit longer. So I planted some along the brick pathway (where the borage was going to go. boo.) And I still have 8 plants that I'll place along the front in a day or so. I can't wait to see how it all looks once the berries are established. Beautiful! My friend Nikol's blog has inspired me to take some before and after pictures. Shoulda done it sooner, like...before we ripped all of the bushes out of the plot it goes.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Funky Saturday

Man was I in a funk today. But, I was lucky enough to have a friend to pull me out of it. Thanks Nikol! So I didn't get much done in the garden. Jonas and I walked around in the yard quite a bit this morning, but that was pretty much the extent of the, "gardening." It was nice to spend time in the yard with Jonas without slaving away. We just wandered around, he really liked the seed pods off of our purple tree (I don't know the real name of it). The seeds jingled inside the pod when shaken. Jonas got a huge kick out of rattling an entire branch of them. He cried when I made him go inside and eat breakfast. What a baby. He's also very enthralled with a stump that I pulled out of the ground last week but haven't moved. If I let him walk wherever he wants you can bet he'll make a dash for that stump, then just stand there and poke at it. The kid likes what her likes. He also keeps picking up little rocks and saying "ball" over and over. It's pretty darn cute. Almost as cute as Siobhan's Mallory stealing vegetables from the garden.

One of my favorite people, Nikol, came over today to swap oranges for lemons. The oranges were sooo good! We juiced them for part of our dinner tonight along with some carrots. So thank you for the oranges and unfunking (defunking?) Nikol, you're the best! I hope the lemons don't disappoint. I can't say it enough, bartering is awesome. I traded lemons that probably would have gone bad, for oranges that we will certainly use up.

I realized this afternoon that the strawberries should probably go into the ground pronto. I still have to lay down a thick layer of manure and actually buy the strawberry plants. Last year I waited too long and by the time I went looking for strawberries they were sold out, everywhere. Top priority for monday: spread some cow poo and plant some strawberries. Also the ground where the bramble fruits are going in needs to be prepped. So much to do!

If anyone out there has really crappy soil and thinks they can't grow anything in it, or if you're just looking for a way to improve the soil here's what you do. Now, our soil was complete junk when we moved in, seriously, decomposed granite. I tried everything I could think of, finally I read about this method in the book, "Eat More Dirt," by Ellen Sandbeck (a must-read) I was very skeptical but, at that point, willing to try anything so I gave it a shot. It works like a dream! To start: DO NOT TILL THE SOIL. This may sound strange, I, too was raised on the idea that tilling was the way to go. Forget it. Soak the area that you want to improve with a garden hose. Spread a thick layer of composted manure (not fresh) so that the layer is 6 inches deep (no need to weed the area, big plus). Stomp it down to 2 inches. Wet it again so that it all bonds together. If you're worrying about the measurements, don't. On the right side of our yard I started to run out of manure when I did this last year and so a large area only got like a 2 inch layer of poo, at best. It still produced very well. Plant whatever you want, mulch it with whatever you want, add some compost and more manure if you like, whenever you like. It's generally a good idea to replenish the soil with goodness at least once a year, in the fall when you pull out all the dead stuff. Trust me this method WORKS!!!

Til tomorrow people. Night.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Compost-o-rama and 1 retraction

Well folks, the wonder plant borage, which sounded too good to be true, was. Yes, yes, tis true. Last night while I was reading an herb book from the library I discovered that the plant should not be eaten because it has high levels of a toxin which causes liver cancer. (Liver cancer you say? Delightful.) It's nice that I'm finding this out now, after reading several things on the plant, not one of them mentioning liver cancer. So sorry to disappoint. Nobody could be more heartbroken than I. Supposedly it's a very good plant for composting, so it's not a total loss. And there's still lovage for a celery back up.

And now we're on to composting. Another book I perused last night, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide by Barbara Pleasant and Deborah L. Martin was very inspiring. So inspiring in fact that I spent the day cleaning up the yard, trimming bushes, raking and ultimately forming a second compost heap almost as large as the first. I've decided to make the old compost pile into a grow heap come spring. I'll have to layer it with some soil, but that shouldn't be too rough. Our yard is so established and filled with bushes that I could probably collect enough for several more compost piles! Plus our neighbor's umpteen gigantic pine trees that constantly drop needles into our yard (and their pool) are a big help. Blessing to us, vexation to them. The needles will make a nice mulch for the berries this year. I would suggest checking out this compost book if you get a chance. Very cool, lots of pictures and neat ideas. There are also graphs showing helpful things like, the ratio of carbon to nitrogen in many commonly composted materials. I'm unbelievably excited for my grow heap! I'd really love to do an herb spiral but think I'll end up growing winter squashes and maybe some tomatoes in it.

Wondering what a grow heap is? It's basically a compost pile, layered with soil. You plant things in it and they grow. Pretty simple huh? The reason you layer it with soil is so that the roots have something more to anchor in than just spongy, selfish compost. I say selfish because it's sponge-like qualities cause it to soak up most of the available water. As wet as a compost pile is plants grown strictly in it tend to show signs of severe dehydration. Winter squashes (and probably any member of the cucurbit family) do well in grow heaps. And it's ideal because the trailing vines can trail their way down the heap. I am worried about powdery mildew. Last year all of my cucurbits succumbed to it. Some produced before dying, others just died. I still have a half green pumpkin on my sideboard, proof that the plant died of mildew before it could fully orange-up. Jonas got into a fight with it the other day. But thats another story.

I'm newly jazzed about composting, which helps take some of the sting out of the borage let down. I'm excited about my new pile and all of the potential things around the yard still waiting to be added. And the lawn needs to be cut again. HEE HEE! Nothing like a good lawn cutting to kick off the compost! I've been considering asking our neighbors Tim and Sharon if they'll give us their lawn clippings. They, especially Sharon, are very diligent in the upkeep of their yard. Every week I watch them drag their yard waste bins out to the curb. I salivate a little. I need to just bring them a loaf of bread and ask. Bread always helps. There's that bartering system again. Boo ya!

And now I'm off to watch 30 rock. Night all.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Bartering: because sometimes, innoculating a goat is just too much!

Jonas and I listen to pod-casts while we eat our breakfasts every morning. This morning was "The Survival Pod-cast." Perhaps a bit alarmist at times, but not too bad, and very useful, I recommend it highly. The pod-cast today was all about becoming independent from different systems. For example, the healthcare system, the debt system, the commercial food system. Very enlightening and inspiring. One tip I'll pass on is the suggestion to learn something new every week that will help you become more self sufficient. For instance learn to unclog a drain, or some basic first-aid, or how to change brake pads. Those types of things. The pod-cast also contained quite a bit on bartering. Consider this the segue...
Bartering has been a pretty consistent theme in my life this past week. I've been trading homemade bread for eggs with my pal Ingrid for awhile, and now I'm branching out into other trades as well. It's very useful since we try to eat locally and love eggs, but cannot have our own chickens at this time. Another bartering venture I'm excited about is trading some of our lemons for oranges with another friend, Nikol. And our good pal Amanda is getting chickens soon and willing to trade seedlings and bread for eggs. I've decided someone in my network needs to get some cows so we can have milk. I know several people who are looking into goats, but don't know that I'll reap the benefits of that. I mean, how much milk does a goat give? I fell in love with the idea of having goats yesterday, but tried to contain myself since the likelihood of being allowed goats is nil. Hello, we can't even get chickens. I'm reading Farewell My Subaru in which the author acquires two goats. Hijinks ensure, including goat intestinal distresses and innoculations that must be administered in the back of the neck. No thanks. Were we allowed livestock I could probably man up and do it, but for now I'll just make bread, and hope for the best. This whole bartering system fascinates me. Very subversive. Mr. Survival Podcaster suggested bartering for something you don't even want just to stick it to the man. I wouldn't go that far, but definitely feel around and see what bartering options are available to you and take advantage of them. And it's not just goods, services are something to barter too. Supposedly there are internet groups to fascilitate and other fun things like that. I'll look into it.

But enough about bartering. I did not make it out into the garden today. The house was in disarray and suffering for a good clean so I stayed in and powered through it. It's gotta get done once in awhile I guess. I also spent a large chunk of time juicing lemons and freezing the juice in ice cube trays. That juice will come in handy in the summer when I'm canning tomatoes. I also zested the peels and froze that. Some of the peels went towards the organic pesticide I discussed yesterday. I barely made a dent in the crop. But I'm not complaining. It's an embarassment of lemony riches.

You'll forgive me if this entry is somewhat short (yeah right), a bunch of gardening books came in at the library and I'm leaving you to peruse them. One last thing. I realized today just how much advanced planning (and re-planning) I do for my garden, especially with this newest venture. If anyone out there is planning their impending garden and would like a list of what I'm growing for ideas just shoot me a comment. Or maybe I'll post it later just for kicks. I'd also appreciate comments on topics you'd be interested in hearing me ramble on about. That's all for tonight. Later!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Lemons and other blessings

I was going to write about this yesterday but forgot until the end, and by then I'd been going on forever so I left it off. Here it is. I was watching Martha Stewart while breastfeeding Jonas and she had some spunky expert girl on talking about things to combat seasonal affective disorder. She had a list of foods to eat and I found it quite interesting that all of the foods were winter season crops. Hmmm, shouldn't this have been a no-brainer? Winter squash, beets, and so on. I had a conversation a little while ago at a book club (holla mongooses!) about eating seasonally (the book was barbara kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle). One lady made the comment that it couldn't be healthy for our bodies to go without things like lettuce for such an extended period as, oh, 8 months. I responded that (and of course it wasn't this eloquent at the time, but this is what I meant) mother nature knew what was best, and that foods in season offered what our bodies needed on a seasonal basis. This idea continues to fascinate me, and has now been proven right, on some level, by martha stewart.
Of course with food availability being what it is most people have no idea what is in season and out. Kingsolver gives a handy diagram to solve this dilemma in the book, I'll let you all search that one out for yourselves. However I will offer this tid-bit I learned when I was 15 or 16 in a church lesson: If it's on sale and there's a lot of it, it's a good bet it's in season. For example, today I went shopping for more juicing supplies, oranges were on sale, voila! See how easy that was?
In other news I pulled out the last stump in what is to be the sorrel plot. Also I raked it over and picked a plethora of lemons off the tree. Jonas got cranky so the rest of the lemons will have to wait. Also the ladder scares the living daylights out of me. Our lemon tree looks infested with white fly and really needs to be sprayed with soapy water. There's a handy organic concoction I make to kill aphids and such that is made out of lemon peels (the lemonene in the peels dries out the little suckers), I am going to boil down the peels after I juice our harvest and try that on the tree.
After a visit to the nursery and seeing all of the citrus quarantined for asian citrus psyllid I am now terrified that that is what is ailing our tree. I've been meaning to call a master gardener about it, but have put it off because I just know they're going to diagnose it immediately as the psyllid and run over and chastise me. Irrational, I know, but this is how my mind works.
For dinner tonight we juiced. Greg is really getting into it which is very nice. We also had pita bread cut into triangles with hummus, and green beans. This is the first time I've actually made hummus, I've bought it, but never made it. What a difference! So much tastier. I was inspired by a friend's recent wedding reception, the food was all mediterranean and junk. Best wedding food ever. And her dad made it all! The tabbouleh was incredible. The dolmas, nothing to write home about but I think they were actually store bought. But I've gotten off track. The hummus is simple and delicious and healthy, and combats Seasonal affective disorder, how about that?
In a food processor blend 15 ounces of garbanzo beans (reserve the liquid for thinning later), 1-3 cloves of garlic crushed (I love garlic and only used two and it was STRONG, consider yourselves warned!), 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons tahini (sesame seed paste, pretty cheap and awesome) 2 tablespoons lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Whip it up, thin to the desired thickness with reserved bean juice and enjoy! What a quick healthy dinner, filling also. I'm thinking this'll be great in the summer when it's too hot to cook anything.
Well, it's late, I should hit the hay. Take care all.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

TVP and other things

The compost is finally sifted and moved! To sift it I used a black basket type thing they hand out at the nursey to corral plants when taking them home. It was very effective. In the end I got about two and a half buckets of good compost. I was a little discouraged at first because I wasn't getting a whole lot of finished compost but towards the bottom it was practically all gold. I used the compost to enrich the ground and smother weeds where I am planning on planting borage, along the brick pathway. I also used some as a mulch/fertilizer in the planterbox outside my kitchen window and I used the last bit to mulch/fertilize one cage of peas that was sorely lacking. How fast it went. I could use about twenty more buckets of the stuff.
The new compost pile is a thing of beauty, very tall. I'm toying with the idea of starting a new compost somewhere else, letting the current one break down nice and good, and planting some squash in it for the summer.
I planted another rotation of spinach, mustard, chard and lettuce. I'm thinking they'll have just enough time to grow before the weather gets too hot. Cross your fingers. We're getting a decent crop of spinach these days.
While I was sowing those seeds I watched a hummingbird build a nest in the back bushes. One hummingbird built while another hovered around. There are things I notice in the nest. Dryer lint from the compost and I think some threads from yarn I tossed. I can see the nest from our dining room window, not a good view, but still it pleases me to know it's there. Today I listened to one of my favorite podcasts, the alternative kitchen garden. It was all about birds and what to feed them. One of my resolutions this year was to finally make a birdfeeder and get a birdbath. Now I am even more determined! I love birds in the garden. Especially the weird yellow and black one that comes around and does mating dances inbetween the rows of vegetables. He's a hoot!

Now TVP (textured vegetable protein). I've been cooking with it for awhile, experimenting is a better word. Lately I've tried pushing it on my vegetarian sister-in-law. I bought her a big bag of her own as a parting gift when she left for college after winter break. I don't know how thrilled she was, I hope she uses it. Anyway, I say experimenting because I can't find recipes that includes the stuff anywhere! I've searched online, I've searched my vegetarian cookbooks, even the library system came up short. It's bad when the library doesn't have anything on it. Oops! I just realized I haven't explained what it is yet, for those who don't know. TVP is essentially soy flour formed into granules. You can buy it enriched or un-enriched, though obviously enriched is better since it has iron and lovely things like that. I use it mostly as a substitute for ground beef. Each serving has a ridiculous amount of fiber in it, something like 16 grams! I can't say definitively since I lack the motivation to actually go look at the bag. Because of this astounding amount of fiber I would advise caution when adding it to your diet. Some in our family, Greg especially, have had some unfortunate cramping. So work it in slowly people.
TVP is great because it's so effortless. I throw a handful of the dry stuff into spaghetti sauces and soups and I rehydrate some in hot water to add to meatloaf and taco meat. Here is my mother-in-law's recipe for meatloaf (the best ever!) adjusted to include a large portion of TVP (also the amount of veggies is upped). The recipe still retains some meat, but if you're a vegetarian I don't see why you couldn't just make it all TVP, or maybe experiment with some chopped nuts. Do what pleases you.

In a medium size bowl mix:

1/2 lb ground beef
3/4 of a cup dry TVP, rehydrated. After soaking in hot water for a bit the 3/4 cup should now equal two cups. Wring it out in a papertowel or cheesecloth.
3/4 cup quick oats
2 eggs
4-5 green onions sliced
1 tsp salt
some black pepper
about 3/4 cup shredded carrot (I used juicer pulp)
1/2 cup chopped celery (again, pulp)
A handful of parsley chopped (pulp)
3 Chard leaves chopped (pulp)
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
good swig of worcestershire sauce
3/4 cup milk.

Mix it all up and spread into a greased 8x8 glass pan, spread special sauce on top, cook at 350 for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Enjoy. The special sauce is 1/2 cup of ketchup, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 teaspoons of mustard mixed up. If you are new to TVP I would reccommend trying this recipe with 1 pound of meat and half the amount of TVP, decrease the milk to 1/2 cup. Everything else stays the same. This recipe makes 6-8 servings.

Monday, January 5, 2009

In The Kitchen

I know I didn't spend ALL day in the kitchen, but it sure felt like it. I made bread for some people, and soup for a friend of mine who just had a baby and is laid up (Hi Siobhan!). This morning Jonas and I were out of muffins so I made more this morning. I tried a new recipe which I found on the back of the ground flax bag. It is the mother of all muffins. Here's the recipe:

1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3/4 Cup flax seed meal
3/4 Cup Oat Bran (I used wheat bran)
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powser
2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 Cups shredded carrots (I used juicer pulp)
2 apples peeled, cored and shredded (again, juicer pulp)
1/2 Cup raisins (I used craisins, since we have a giant bag of them)
1 Cup nuts, chopped (I left this out since Jonas would be eating them)
3/4 Cup milk (I used a full cup since I used juicer pulp which is a little dry-ish)
2 eggs beaten (From Ingrid's chickens, Hi Ingrid!)
1 tsp vanilla

Basically mix dry ingredients, add apples and carrots, mix, add everything else, mix, but not too much. Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes. The recipe says it will make 15 muffins (which is weird, who has a fifteen-muffin tin?) But it made 24, and I didn't even add nuts! They were pretty good, the cinnamon/vanilla combo was a little strange but not bad.
Jonas could not get enough of these muffins. He would wail whenever his little highchair tray sat empty for longer than 2 seconds. When I finally thought he was done (because he had started throwing things on the ground) I put him down to play in the living room, he crawled right back to where his highchair was and ate the muffin pieces he had thrown earlier. He ate all of them and I didn't stop him. Saves me vaccuming. Builds his immune system. Everyone wins.
The muffins are great, and packed with goodness. You can't beat that. Also they look more like regular muffins, unlike the carrot/ginger ones. Here's the proof.

As for juice, I left some of the more adventurous ingredients out of Jonas's portion, hoping that he would drink it today. No good. He had carrot, apple, cantaloupe and wouldn't drink it. Perhaps he was too smitten with the muffins to be bothered. My juice on the other hand contained Apple, Carrot, Cantaloupe (rind on, not bad) celery, three big red chard leaves, and cucumber. It was delicious, though the cantaloupe leaves an after taste I can't say I care for. The juice was also a very pretty color. See?

After breakfast we went out into the garden, per the usual. The spinach starts have taken off already. Impressive. I meant to sow a bunch of things including, borage, lovage, parsley, spinach and chard, but Jonas got cranky before I could get to it. I did however get half of the compost sifted, no small feat. Our compost pile is a beast, one thing I don't like about winter gardening: the compost seems to take years to break down. There was a lovely wind scorpion nest in the middle of the pile, can't get enough of that. Hey, it's better than them hiding in our bath towels, sheesh! That was fun.
Something, probably a raccoon, the same raccoon that broke into our neighbor's liquor cabinet after sneaking in the doggy door, keeps pulling the same nasty potato from the compost and nibbling at it. Every morning I find it on the brick pathway and put it back in the pile, next morning it's back on the pathway again. I get a kick out of it. There are so many tastier things available in the pile, but it, whatever it is, is attached to that sprouting potato. I finally buried it deep in the pile today when I was sifting and moving the compost to it's new location. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be able to sift and move the second half tomorrow, and also have time for planting seeds, and picking lemons, and juicing lemons, and spraying the lemon tree for white fly, and spreading the manure in the berry plot and starting more wheatgrass, and thinning the lettuce, and watering, and weeding. Where does it end? It's a good thing Jonas usually likes being outside. I could live without him eating snails though. Little weirdo.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Restful (?) Sabbath

Here's what I did today after church...

I made bread. I had some bran flakes that needed to be used up soon so I added them into the normal ground flax bread recipe I use. Tell me that isn't beautiful dough!

While the bread was rising I planted my seedlings. Instead of buying the tray the peat pots should be put in (which wouldn't fit on my kitchen windowsill) I saved oreo and other cookie trays thinking they'd do the job nicely. And hey what do you know? I was right. This is an oreo cookie tray, it fit 15 peat pots.

Oh yeah, while I was doing all of this Greg and Jonas watched football. A little father-son time. Adorable.

Here are the seedlings all done. And here is a list of what I started: Brandywine tomato, beefsteak tomato, silvery fir tree tomato, red pear tomato, yellow pear tomato, jelly bean tomato, different basils, and sunberry bushes. What is a sunberry you ask? Well I'll tell you. A sunberry is an heirloom which is the cross between an african berry and a european berry. It is compared to a blueberry but supposedly surpasses it in flavor. It should do well in our climate, which is good since I've desperately wanted to grow blueberries but always kill them. I started fifteen of the little suckers. Some are slated to be given away to friends and anyone willing to trade produce or eggs. If the bushes do well enough this year and are perennial I would like to replace our ornamental berry bushes in the front yard with them and probably fill the bank also. Goodness knows something needs to go on that bank!

Here is the bread all done. It rose a lot better than I expected it to. I'm glad the bran didn't weigh it down too much. I've never had luck with getting whole wheat bread to rise properly and I'm so happy the bran didn't succumb to a similar fate. Now to see if Greg will eat it...willingly.

Here's the recipe:

dissolve two teaspoons of yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. add two tablespoons sugar, one teaspoon yeast, two tablespoons canola oil. Heat two cups of milk to about 110 degrees. Pour that in. Add 1 cup ground flax meal and 1 cup bran flakes, mix it in well. Add all purpose flour until it forms a ball that leaves the sides of the mixer. Don't add too much. Like four, maybe four and a half cups. Knead it a bit and rise til doubled. Shape into loaves and rise in greased loaf pans until doubled. Bake at 375 degrees for 40-ish minutes. It's done when it sounds hollow when tapped and has a nice golden brown color. Remove from pans and lay the loaves on their sides so that the tops don't depress while they're cooling. Switch the sides every so often. This makes two loaves.

That was my day. My sister and her boyfriend also came over for dinner and I served them a spinach pasta pesto concoction. I would have made the nastutium pesto if it was just Greg, Jonas and I. But alas it was not. The pesto was from last year's garden. I'm surprised we still have so much left, I was worried we would have run out a long time ago. Now it looks like our supply should last until the new plants start producing. Maybe I should scale back the basil pesto production I have planned for this year. Nah.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Best laid plans...

My blog has a follower! How validated I feel. Giddy actually is a better way of describing it. Hi, I'm a dork.

I meant to start my seedlings today, never got around to it. Which saddens me, it was the fun thing on my to-do list. I did manage to buy everything though (the easy part). As much as I love doing every little thing from scratch (to the point of ridiculousness at times, yeah, the homemade dishwasher detergent did not go so well) I'm addicted to those darn rehydrating peat pots. Perhaps it's because they remind me of those grow in water toys I loved so dearly as a child, or maybe it's that they have proven effective time and time again. I was going to sift through the compost and make my own seedling mix this year but what with Greg snapping the pitchfork like a twig and then the rain this morning, I caved and bought 2 25 packs of peat pots. I was going to list all of the seedlings I will be starting, but I'll save that for when I actually do it. (always keep 'em wanting more.)

I planted some spinach starts in the garden today. There are several gaping empty rows in the garden now that I've torn out the last of the tomatoes. I was going to plant all of it with spinach seeds but the time is flying so fast. So I planted half with starts and I'll plant the remaining with seeds. Counting the 4 week old seedlings I already had, it should make for a nice rotation.

The love affair with greens continues. Today at the nursery I came across Borage seeds. From what the packet describes it is the picture of usefullness. Technically it's considered an herb. You can eat the leaves raw or steam them like spinach (that quality in a plant thrills me to no end, again, dorky.) The stems can be peeled and used like celery, which is awesome since I don't think celery will do well here at all. And lastly the tiny, blue, star shaped flowers are edible and can be candied for winter use. In our So Cal climate borage is supposed to do well year round, in my experience that translates to: often burns to a crisp in the heat of summer. But you never know. Borage is supposed to be excellent for the beginning gardener, and should be directly sown, not transplanted. I'm going to plant it along the brick pathway on the right side of our yard, right between the compost plot and the herb/berry plot. I promised myself I would plant more flowers this year, I have a hard time understanding strictly ornamental plants and therefore rarely pay them any attention. I can appreciate beauty, but beauty with function is ideal, especially when you use precious resources (see: water) to keep it alive. So I'm placating my weary conscience by planting edible flowers. Borage is perfect! As are nasturtiums. And I'm planting sunflowers, in hopes that they'll lure the birds away from the berries. Fat chance.

Wow, I'm prolific today. Juicing. I'm obsessed. Poor little Jonas's chin is almost perpetually stained orange from the carrot juice he has every morning. When I dropped him off at Grandma Candi's yesterday to be babysat I found myself saying, "I promise I wiped his face off, the orange just won't go away." Candi understands, her skin turned orange when she was six because her mom made her eat too many carrots. But I digress. I went to Sprouts this afternoon after the nursery and bought a weeks worth of juiceable goodness. Cucumbers, oranges, apples, celery, spinach, chard, cantaloupes. So much for eating seasonally. I still refuse to buy bananas after reading "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle." I've been looking into buying my own tree, they were half price today at the nursery but they only had the ornamental type left. Surprise. Who buy's ornamental bananas? The label touted that it would provide the owner's yard with a tropical feel. Yeah, REAL bananas do that too. But I digress again. I'm very excited for a new week of juicing possibilites. I'd better end this before you all succumb to eye strain. Ta Ta!

P.S. Sorry about the lack of pictures. I meant to take some of the yard today but burned daylight doing other things. Tomorrow, I promise.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Jack Lalane Way!

On Monday I was shopping at Costco and came across the Jack Lalane Juicer. It was on sale but still pricey. I called Greg and we decided to buy it with grandparent christmas money. I LOVE IT! And not just for it's chipper-shredder like qualities, the juice is great too! I'd be lying if I told you the thought of breaking up some compost in the bad-boy hadn't crossed my mind. I need help.
Jonas and I have been juicing every morning for breakfast. Well, I juice, he sits in his highchair and is surprisingly little help. He does enjoy the juice though, and now all of his sippy-cup nipples are stained orange. This week we juiced two apples and six carrots every morning. Some mornings I threw in a handful of parsley from the garden for good measure. You really can't taste the parsley and it's supposed to have blood cleaning properties so why not? I'm amazed at the amount of increased energy I feel these days. Remarkable.
Behind the juicer there is a collection bin for all of the pulp the thing spits out. The juicer actually came with a book on how to use the pulp. Legit recipes and crap. Brilliant. I feel like a real life eskimo, they use every part of the seal, *I* use every part of the carrot. See the parallels? Also it's been very cold lately. In addition to the juice we've been having at breakfast Jonas and I enjoy Apple Carrot Muffins. I admit the actual recipe name is "Golden Surprise Muffins," but honestly I find the word "surprise" in relation to food very off-putting. Don't you? The recipe didn't come from the Jack Lalane book but the Sunset Book of Breads my mom-in-law gave me. The end result muffin doesn't look like a traditional muffin, but I think they're delicious!
I didn't get anything done on the garden today. I did manage to buy some new gloves (three pair for three bucks on clearance at target. Holla!) and acquire a pitchfork and rake from the parents. I also spent some time thinking up things to plant and subsequently juice. I must get out to pick the lemons off the tree. It, not unlike me, needs help.
And, HALLELUJAH! Good news, we are going to pull out at least 3 of the oleanders on our bank and replace them with fruit trees. I'm thinking citrus and planning a trip to the nursery tomorrow. We will see what comes of it.

Here is the recipe for the Apple Carrot Muffins. It calls for 1 Cup shredded carrot, you can use either that or the pulp from a juicer if you are blessed with one. Notice it does not call for apple at all, that was my own tweaking based on the fact that there was apple pulp mixed with my carrot pulp. Do what you they aren't going to look like normal muffins anyway.

1/4 cup each butter and brown sugar
2 eggs
1 Tablespoon each lemon juice and water
1 cup finely shredded carrots (pulp, whatever)
1 cup wheat flour (or all-purpose if you're not really committed:))
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Beat together butter and brown sugar until creamy, add eggs and beat until fluffy. Stir in lemon juice, water and carrots. In a separate bowl sift together dry ingredients. Add to carrot mixture. Stir just til moistened and spoon into greased muffin tins. Bake at 400 for twenty minutes. Makes about twelve muffin-ish things. I freeze them in a large Zip lock and reheat them in the microwave as needed. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! Greg and I spent the first day of 2009 immersed in yard work. We pulled out a gigantic juniper bush. I'm going to move the compost pile there (after sifting) for the coming year. Then next year I'll have to find yet another place to put the compost because an avocado tree is in the works, and slated for that spot. We also pulled out a bunch of half-dead shrubs to clear the area assigned to the bramble fruits which should be arriving next month. We're planting raspberries, boysenberries and blackberries. The birds may eat everything, we may be inundated with berries, stay tuned. To top it all off I spent awhile weeding, sweeping and and dinking about. I'm very pleased with the progress we made on the yard today, although my favorite garden tool, a beloved pitchfork was lost. It snapped in half actually, and not to point fingers was all Greg's fault. I'll have to pick up a new one tomorrow, and a new broom, and gloves since the fingers on mine have completely worn off. Hooray, garden shopping spree!

At lunch today I finally tried nasturtium leaves. They are awesome! I am ridiculously overjoyed. We will have greens well into summer!!! I ate them shredded up in a burrito, along with the last of the year's tomatoes. When I tasted them alone they did have a flavor remniscent of radishes, but in the burrito they just tasted really fresh and delicious. I highly recommend them. Also a plus, the nasturtiums that are flourishing in the front yard have not been decimated by snails, which is more than can be said for any other plant out there.