Saturday, July 9, 2011

Gold Ball turnips and a Black Spanish radish.
Our plants are growing slower than last summer, and I worried it was something we were doing until we walked around the community garden this morning and saw other people's plots.  Some have plants much further developed than ours, especially tomatoes and peppers (ours, grown from seed indoors on window sill, are pretty sad, but we're keeping our fingers crossed), but many others have some plants even smaller than ours.  So I feel better.  Even if we should be doing something differently to boost our garden's production, I think we can safely blame the weather (three days of 90, two weeks of 60, a week of 90, a week of 70...) for most of the slow growth.

Despite the inconsistent weather, we are harvesting a few things, as you can see in the photo of the turnips and one black radish we picked on July 4.  For a few weeks now, we've been snipping off leaves from the beets, turnips and radishes and steaming/sauteing them for dinner, and now we've enjoyed a roasted veggie platter that included our turnips.  We haven't eaten the radish yet, but we did stir fry some radish pods (from the radishes that bolted and went to flower quickly, then producing snap bean–like seed pods).  Not bad.  And, we're picking a few beans each day—Cherokee, wax and magpie—and will soon have enough to make a great bean salad or something.  A friendly gardener Len met while toiling away in the sun shared with us some of her broccoli, small red radishes and bok choy.  And, we're picking raspberries every day, just like the last two summers around this time.  The raspberries are the lowest maintenance, highest yield item in our edible garden.  And possibly the most delicious.

I can't wait to start picking cucumbers and zucchini—just in the past two days, I've seen itty bitty baby ones.  Oh, and we added some potatoes to the garden!  My mom gave me some little budding potato chunks that she received from a neighbor with a huge garden.  We just tossed them into the ground, and less than week later we had potato plants.  As they grow taller, we pile the dirt higher around them.

The last thing I have to report is the Insect Watch.  I saw one squash bug near our calabaza plant a couple of weeks ago.  I killed him and, after seeing the squash-bug invasion my parents are facing, I have been diligently checking the stems and undersides of the leaves of all of our squash and melon plants every time we go out to water.  So far, no new sightings and no egg clusters.  Maybe the dill, catnip and nasturtium (which hasn't yet bloomed) are working?  Meanwhile, Len is daily hunting and squishing Japanese beetles in our corn stalks.  Now we know what became of the white grubs we found while digging up the garden.  Next spring, we'll kill the grubs as we find them instead of just tossing them out of the space.  The other pest we've found is the cucumber beetle.  Rather cute little black and yellow guys, they devoured some of our squash seedlings in one weekend earlier this season.  We replanted the ones in the worst shape—and the ones that disappeared entirely—and now just keep a murderous eye out for those beetles, too.  It's always beetles.

Here's to living off the land!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Garden Plot, A Visual Aid

You'll probably have to click on this image to open it separately and zoom in to read which veggies are where.

Actual measurements of our garden plot revealed that the space was not quite a full 20x30, so we shuffled a couple of items and alotted slightly less space to the walking areas, but this plan will give you the general layout of our spot in the community garden.  You'll see that the sprawling items, like cucumbers, melons and squash, have about 9 square feet for each vine to fill, except for a few of the plants that will produce one- to three-pound fruit—Len built vertical frames for those guys to climb, saving some ground space.  Most of the plants in the center will be planted in clusters of four, in little 2x2 squares. Those we will transplant into the garden plot after they have sprouted and grown into hardy little seedlings indoors. The beans, beets, turnips and radishes, ranging from 9 to 16 seeds per square foot, will be planted in stages, about every three weeks, so that we can harvest them over a period, instead of pulling up about 50 radishes all at once.

I also plan to plant some nasturtiums and dill here and there among the squash.  And marigolds among the tomatoes.

The items you don't see on the map—herbs, lettuce, kale, spinach, chard, onions—are planted in a space about 4x7 next to the strawberries in the front yard.  I'm worried about those seeds.  They seem awfully slow to start.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Garden Grab Bag

This year, our edible garden was a surprise, even to us. 

We were lucky enough to find out about Seeds of Change's Sowing Millions Project just before they gave away all 100 million seeds, so we placed two orders for 25 packets of certified organic seeds (two orders so we could share with our moms, not so we could hog them all for ourselves!).  The shipping cost was all we had to pay for the orders and was $4.99 each.  We didn't get to choose what plants we wanted or even get to see a list of the kinds of seeds they giving away; Seeds of Change would just send us a random variety.  It was exciting, kind of like waiting for Christmas morning.  But, we also had to wait to plan the garden until we found out what sorts of seeds we would get.  In other words, we waited impatiently for about three and a half weeks.

Then the seeds arrived.  So many different veggies to grow!  Some people complained on the Seeds of Change Facebook page that they received lots of flowers and hardly any vegetables.  Our packages fortuitously contained mostly vegetables, with only six envelopes of ornamental plants, three of which were marigolds—very useful in the vegetable garden.  We did receive duplicates of some things, even quadruplets of the okra and pumpkins, but I think that was a good thing because it made it easier to share the seeds with our moms and because, let's face it, I don't think we're quite ready to plant, grow, and harvest 50 kinds of vegetables.  I should say, 50 new kinds of vegetables, because when I list out all of our seeds below, you'll see the count is actually around 50.

So, the produce we will eat this summer and fall has already been determined—mostly by our surprise assortment from Seeds of Change, as well as the seeds we gathered or had leftover from last year, and just a few new purchases. Here's the list:

Lemon Basil, harvested seeds from aunt
Sweet Basil, leftover seeds
Cherokee Wax Bush Bean, Seeds of Change
Green Snap Bush Bean, leftover packet
Golden Lumen Wax Bush Bean, Seeds of Change
Sonoran Gold Bush Tepary Bean (traditional), Seeds of Change
Magpie Bush Snap Bean (heirloom), Seeds of Change
Yellow Intermediate Mangel Beet (heirloom), Seeds of Change
Witerbi Mangold Chard, Seeds of Change
Chives, leftover seeds
Cilantro, harvested seeds
Sweet Corn, leftover seeds
Upland Cress, Seeds of Change
Satsuki Madori Cucumber (rare), Seeds of Change
Sumter Cucumber, leftover seeds
Bush Champion Cucumber, Seeds of Change
Mammoth Dill, new purchase
Turkish Orange Eggplant (heirloom), Seeds of Change
Florence Fennel (heirloom), Seeds of Change
Vates Blue Curled Kale, Seeds of Change
Red Russian Kale, Seeds of Change
Red Oak Lettuce, Seeds of Change
Butter Crunch Lettuce, leftover seeds from Mom
Romaine Lettuce, leftover seeds from Mom
Eel River Muskmelon, Seeds of Change
Crimson Sweet Watermelon, leftover seeds
Sweet Dakota Rose Watermelon (heirloom), Seeds of Change
Mammoth Spineless Okra, Seeds of Change
White Lisbon Bunching Onion, Seeds of Change
Parsley, leftover seeds
New Mexican Green Chile, leftover seeds
Bell Pepper, leftover seeds
JalapeƱo, leftover seeds
Jack-o-Lite Pumpkin, Seeds of Change
Pie Pumpkin, harvested seeds
Calabaza, harvested seeds
Round Black Spanish Radish (heirloom), Seeds of Change
Bloomsdale Long-Standing Spinach, leftover seeds from Mom
Hokkaido Stella Blue Squash, Seeds of Change
Butternut Squash, harvested seeds
Gold Nugget Squash, Seeds of Change
Zeppelin Delicata Squash, Seeds of Change
Sweet Dumpling Squash, Seeds of Change
Cherry Tomato, leftover seeds
Yellow Pear Tomato (heirloom), leftover seeds
Oregon Spring Tomato, new purchase
Gold Ball Turnip (heirloom), Seeds of Change
Black Beauty Zucchini, Seeds of Change
Not to mention the strawberries, raspberries, and shallots always growing in our yard.

Also, we'll be mixing these plants into the garden as a natural repellent for harmful insects like squash bugs: two types of marigolds (Seeds of Change),  the dill already mentioned above, catnip (easily found wild around here), and two types of nasturtiums (new purchase).  We will let you know just how well this approach works.

Even with the 20x30 plot in the community garden and the 4x10 area in our front yard, it seems like we have a lot to cram into our gardening space, and we do.  But we're employing some of Mel Bartholomew's Square-Foot Gardening techniques, including some vertical gardening for the cucumbers and smaller winter squash.  More about that in another post.  Also to come: a map of our garden.

I'll finish up with a quick summary of what we planted on Saturday (May 7).  Sowed directly in the ground: both kinds of kale, all of the kinds of lettuce, spinach, cress, fennel, chives, both kinds of basil, turnips, beets, radishes, green snap bush beans, and cherokee wax bush beans.  Started indoors: all three kinds of tomatoes, all three kinds of peppers/chiles, both kinds of marigolds, eggplant, and parsley.

Now, to keep track of all of this is a garden journal...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Weird Popcorn

This snack is adapted from Martha Stewart's Chili-Lime Popcorn.  It got its new name when Len was organizing our recipes, typing up ones that were handwritten or torn out of magazines, and he thought this one sounded, well, weird.  It's actually very tasty, if you ask me.

2 tablespoons vegetable oil*
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1 1/4 teaspoons chili powder
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 large lime wedge

Pop the popcorn in the oil.* Meanwhile, mix the chili powder, cumin, and lime zest.  When the popcorn is done, sprinkle the seasonings all over it and toss to coat.  Then squeeze juice from the lime wedge all over the popcorn.  Serve immediately.

The chili powder, cumin, and lime zest give the popcorn a southwestern flavor, a refreshing alternative to my beloved, everyday butter-and-salt combo.  You eat popcorn everyday, right?  The lime juice gives each kernel a drop of moisture with a mouth feel akin to butter, but not greasy and with a tang that completely eliminates the need for salt.  At least, that's what I think.  Len thinks it's weird.

*You could air pop your popcorn instead, but you'll still need to toss it with about a tablespoon of oil to help the seasonings stick.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beyond the Day

How ironic that, in the last few weeks, it was on Earth Day and its weekend that we used our car the most.  It was that darn rain that shouldn’t have kept me off the bicycle but did (I’m not being so wimpy about the wet and wild weather this week) and various family Easter gatherings that led to more than 150 miles of driving.  Yeesh.  And gas prices were nearing $4.30 in our neck of the woods and even higher near the city.

But, one good thing that came from all that fuel-burning (besides all the food we ate and the quality time spent with loved ones, of course) was that we passed a billboard for Earth Hour.  Remember that?  It was in March.  I told you to participate.  The billboard said, “This Earth Hour, go beyond the hour.” That means regularly unplugging your electronics when you’re not using them.  Turning off the lights when you leave a room (like, duh).

We’ve been unplugging our TV, digital converter, and DVD player, which are conveniently connected to one power strip, as well as our amplified antenna (rabbit ears you can plug in to boost their reception), before we go to bed at night and just anytime we’re not watching a show.  We also unplug the microwave and coffee maker whenever they are not actively heating or brewing something for us.  It means when we do use them, they don’t display the right time, but how many digital clocks do we need in the kitchen, anyway?  And, of course, of course, if we’re not charging the cell phones, the chargers are not plugged in!  Yes, the chargers suck energy even when they’re not charging something.

A fun experiment is to watch your electric meter outside and see how the speed of the numbers rolling along changes when you run (or don’t run) certain things in the house.  Len was watching ours slowly count our kilowatts when it spun a little faster for a few seconds.  “What just happened?” he asked. “What did you change?”  It was our fridge cycling on.  Interesting.  Well, interesting for nerds like us.

So that’s taking Earth Hour beyond the hour.  What about taking Earth Day beyond the day?  Lots of people already are.  Lots people still need to.  And, what that means to each person is different.  Maybe organic gardening, public transportation, rain barrels, eating only local produce.  

For us, it means the trash can is a last resort, it means bicycling in the rain so we don’t have to use the car, it means stirring the compost more frequently in anticipation of a vegetable garden, and it means hanging the laundry out to dry...just as soon as it warms up and stops raining.  It could mean more, though.  Water conservation, to name one category, is something we need to work on.  We're not complete water gluttons, taking 30-minute showers, watering a vast lawn twice day, but it's an area in need of improvement.  Future post?

What does it mean to you to take Earth Day beyond the day?  What more could it mean to you?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Last of 2010's Bounty - Spiced Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup

You may not believe what we had for dinner the other night.  Butternut squash from our garden.  That's right, until a few days ago, we still had three small butternuts left from our 2010 garden.  And I mean fresh ones, not frozen or canned or dehydrated.  These babies have been sitting patiently in our pantry for more than five months without rotting or drying out or going bad in any other way.  You gotta love the shelf life of winter squash! 

As you may already know, we keep our thermostat quite low over the winter, which conserves energy and makes us very uncomfortable unless we are under lots of blankets, with the added benefit of creating a root cellar–like atmosphere in our kitchen.  Our pantry then works like a basement, where most people would normally store their autumn harvests for the winter months.

So, that's the last of last summer's garden, not counting anything we froze or canned.  And, here's what we made with it:

Spiced Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup
(adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes)

1 cup dry lentils
2 1/2 cups peeled butternut squash, cut into small pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 stalk of celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon garam masala*
4 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth

Rinse and drain lentils.  Then mix all ingredients in a 3 1/2- to 4-quart slow cooker.

Cover and cook on low setting for 8 to 9 hours (or on high setting for 4 to 5 hours). 

Before serving, we like to puree the soup using an immersion blender.  You could also do it in batches in a regular blender.  It comes out looking like baby food, so, if that grosses you out, just don't puree it.  You may also want to add extra broth if the soup seems too thick.

*Garam masala is an Indian seasoning, and it makes this soup what it is.  You can probably find it in the spice aisle in most large grocery stores.  It's actually a savory and harmonious blend of spices like nutmeg, cloves, coriander, cumin, and pepper, among others.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Loaner

I’m sorry, I thought it was spring.

This cold weather has been especially disappointing considering the groundhog did not see his shadow this year, signifying an early spring. Maybe no one around here remembers that rare occurrence because we had two feet of snow February 2, but it happened! Now, I ask, where is the spring? The calendar says it is spring. The air outside begs to differ. Grrr. (Or should I say, brrr.)

We’re still biking, though. If you’re like me, once you’ve been on the bicycle for the first time each year, your addiction awakens. I don’t care that it’s cold; I want to avoid the car at all costs. And it does cost—it costs us comfort and time. But it saves us money that would have been spent on gas (which was $3.89 today!). And it makes us fitter, so you could argue that it saves us a trip to the gym (if we normally spent time at the gym, that is). I admit we broke the biking streak (not to be confused with streaking while bicycling, which we did not do) last week when rain was forecast for a couple of days and when we had an evening engagement that just didn’t allow time for biking. But this week, we’re back to freezing our buns off on the bikes everyday. It sucks, and yet it’s invigorating. I feel alive and self-sufficient and strong.

Also this week, I’ve been using a borrowed bike while mine awaits some repairs—most importantly, my back wheel is out of true and some ball bearings could be replaced, and while we’re at it, the chain is old and slack and one of the brake cables is shredded. Oh, and how about some new handlebar grips? But we must not be the only ones who’ve kicked off bike season, because the bike store’s repair shop was booked until next Wednesday! I can’t go back to using the car everyday for a week and a half! Thankfully, Len’s parents were kind enough to lend me one of their bikes.

It is very different from my bike, which is a path-and-pavement hybrid. This loaner is a cruiser, more pleasure than business, so the tires are much fatter, the handlebars are wider, and the pedals are a little out in front of the seat instead of directly beneath it. It's basically the Buick of bikes, and it’s a very comfortable ride. Very comfortable. But it’s meant for cruising around town in a leisurely fashion. So, I’ve discovered that my commute, which I thought was about equally up-and-down in each direction, is actually mostly uphill on the way to the train station. I discovered that the gears on this bike are not really calibrated for speed, and the pedals are not positioned for powering up hills, because I missed my train Monday morning. I now know I have to give myself an extra 10 minutes in the morning to compensate for the slowness of this very comfortable, temporary transport. The ride home, on the other hand, took about the same amount of time as it would have on my own bike—because it’s mostly downhill that way. I wouldn’t have known.  Now I do.

Anyway, I’ll gladly take the slow bike over the car. Like I said, I’m addicted to biking after that first week. Or is it more of an aversion to the car than an addiction to the bike? Doesn’t matter. The point is, I strongly prefer to bike, so I’m happy to have the loaner. Besides, it’s a very comfortable loaner. Did I mention that?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Daylight Saving Time is Fuel-Saving Time

. . . And, we're back.

As bicycling ninjas.

Since we have more daylight left in the evening—even if it doesn't necessarily come with warmer temperatures—our commutes to and from work and school were 100% car-free last week!  This week begins another five consecutive days (pending the thunderstorm forecast) of bicycle commuting.

And, I want to remind everyone of Earth Hour next Saturday night.  Do it!  No excuses!  The food in your fridge will not spoil if you cut the power for just one hour. (This is assuming you are not leaving the fridge door wide open for the duration of the hour, of course.)

Related posts:
Don't Forget Earth Hour Tonight! (Earth Hour 2010)
First Bicycle Commute of 2010