Thursday, December 31, 2009

My First Year Garden: Lessons Learned

Technically, this wasn't my first year gardening. I'd grown veggies in pots last year. However, this year was my first concerted effort at actually producing instead of experimenting with which spots got the best light & such in the yard. And, geez, I've learned a lot this year. From an indoor aphid infestation to first strawberries to fall vegetables left for dead, there was good, bad & ugly!

Here are my lessons learned:

  1. Start peppers indoors earlier than the other vegetables. They take longer to germinate.
  2. Get another grow light or start fewer things from seeds. My seedlings were far too crowded which resulted, I think, in leggy purple basil.
  3. When I plant outside, lay out a soaker hose. This will make irrigation easier in the summer when the rains stop. (Wrangling a hose through and around tomato plants heavy with baby tomatoes is not fun. Some precious darlings get knocked off!). Or, figure out some drip irrigation scheme.
  4. Plant tomatoes at the end of the bed or in the back so they don't shade the peppers.
  5. Plant selection: Sungolds are keepers, Wonder Lights are blah.
  6. In January or February, mark the planting dates for the entire year on my Outlook calendar. And set reminders!
  7. Net my ground cherries. I only got 5 last year from my garden & the rest went to the blasted robins.
And, 2010 will be the year of me tracking garden expenses and weighing garden yields. My garden is certainly my hobby and not a money-saving venture, but I am interested in its impact on our budget.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Holiday Haul for a Better Garden to Come

By the miracle of Santa, I got some lovely presents to help my 2010 garden be better than ever. I got:

-Another grow light so that my babies won't be quite to squished next year
-Set of garden tools with sturdy tote to keep them all organized and easy to find.
-A book on seed starting (which is mega detailed)
-Subscriptions to Organic Gardening and Fine Gardening
and, for garden-related entertainment,
-The Brother Gardeners

I hope you all's holidays were warm, bright and cheerful as well.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The DC area is notoriously skittish when it comes to snow. I would argue that it's with good reason, though:

a) DC area is full folks from warmer climes, like myself. I never had to drive in snow until I was 23 (when I moved here)

b) It doesn't snow that often here. This means that people like myself don't get the opportunity to properly practice the winter driving *and* that there is little incentive for local governments to invest heavily in snow plows, etc.

c) Traffic is bad on a good day. It's a thousand times worse on a snow day.


d) When it snows here, it usually happens in the morning and just a few inches. This melts by midday and then freezes into black ice juuuuuuuuust as rush hour starts. That is terrifying stuff.

But, this recent snowfall rivals the Storm of 2003. That was my first winter in this area and in February, we got a doozy. I remember opening up the door to my balcony and sticking a yardstick in the ground...18in! My grad school was cancelled for that entire week.

This snow storm is probably worse that that. In my yard, I'm measuring about 20 inches in the non-drift areas. Remember my raised beds that looked like this in the summer:

Well, you can't really tell I have raised beds. Or, really any garden at all now:

Unfortunately, this snow is too fluffy for snowballs or snowmen. Therefore, it does me no good.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Winter Information Resources

This morning, it feels like 14*F outside which is very chilly for DC. Very, very, very chilly. The kind of chilly where your nose runs and your cheeks burn if you're outside too long in the wind.

We've already discussed how I am not terribly cold-hardy. Thus, I'd rather spend most of my winters indoors with some hot cocoa, dreaming of spring. Last time, I posted about books. This time, I'm going to post about TV.

Gardening by the Yard
was an awesome show. It was kind of like the Good Eats version of know a wacky host (Paul James in this case) provides both entertainment and information in one half hour show. Sadly, the show has been cancelled. You can, however, find episodes online and reruns still show up on my DVR (I believe on Friday afternoons and Sunday mornings).

I mourned the loss of Gardening by the Yard for awhile, but then I found that Paul James had his own website with web videos. Hurray!

These are truly fantastic resources to hone your gardening skills, and add to your gardening knowledge, all while staying warm this winter.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Winter Reading

This past weekend it really started feeling wintery in the DC area. It makes it a bit unpleasant to be outside when it's overcast and windy. Well, maybe that's because I've got thin, Floridian skin?

Anyways, I like spending most of my winter inside with some hot cocoa or tea, curled up in a blanket with a gardening book. I've found a few to read in between my books for class. Namely:

Winter Harvest Handbook. This book primarily discusses unheated greenhouses but also has a section on cold frames. My ultimate goal is to have a small greenhouse attached to our house (currently saving up for this. it's going to take awhile..) and I do have some old windows that would be perfect for a cold frame.

Designing the New Kitchen Garden. I've got a few years until my raise beds rot out, but I'm still dreaming about how I'd redesign my kitchen garden. This book (I've leafed through it) has a good mix of history of food gardens, illustrations, etc.

In Defense of Food. I'm probably the last person on earth to read this book. I'm almost done with it. I find most of it to be stuff I already know or common sense. But an interesting read, especially the part of taking food out of context.

Also? Not a book, but good garden movie watching:

Greenfingers. Let Clive Owen, as an inmate that finds a love of horticulture in prison, warm you up this winter. I mean, this movie is a little cheesy. But it's a good kind of cheese!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Long Time No Post, eh?

It's been awhile, huh?

Truth is I've been kind of overwhelmed, kind of lazy and kind of tired. I've started taking landscape design classes part-time and I still work full-time at the paying-the-bills gig (which has ramped up as well). The weather has been pretty gross this fall making gardening a muddy, mucky mess and the last thing I wanted to do or think about after spending hours reading about trees or drawing them or learning how 17th century French landscape designers used them in their plans. Plus, an exciting project has popped up that I hope to be able to announce soon. Fingers crossed on that one.

Anywho, that's how I've been spending my free time. Learning about plants instead of interacting with them. It's interesting for sure but I do need to manage my time better. It seems silly to have to neglect the things that made you interested in the subject in the first place, no?

I promise to not be a stranger but this winter will probably be a bit scant on posts. I hope you'll stick around though! I've got big, lofty plans for my spring garden.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Recipe: Portuguese Kale & Potato Soup

My typical way to make dark, leafy greens to to braise them and finish them off with a dash of cider vinegar, hot sauce and sugar. But, when I found myself with some kale (sadly, not from my garden. At least, not yet) and potatoes, I was looking for a more complete meal that would use both. Enter the wonder of and their Portuguese Kale & Potato Soup. I followed their directions exactly, so no need to copy the recipe here, just visit the link. But, I do have some observations:

-You need to use the cured chorizo (think salami) not the fresh one (like italian sausage).
-This soup is good the first day, but it's fantastic the second.
-On the second day, it was a bit saltier than on the first. So, add any additional salt needed to individual bowls on the first day and not the whole pot.
-Potatoes don't freeze well. If you want to ultimately freeze this soup, omit the russets and use garbanzos (or other favorite bean) instead of red potatoes.

This was quite a delicious way to consume your kale! We had some rosemary crackers & they went very well with the soup (if you are the sort that likes to dunk something in your soup...)


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Putting Up: The Collection

There is something intensely satisfying about knowing that your freezer and cupboards are loaded with summery goodness just sitting there, waiting for you. I have froze, dehydrated and canned to create this impressive collection of food:

Yeah, it just looks like a bunch of bags and jars. But it contains so much awesomeness. Like: Several pounds of dried tomatoes waiting for pasta or an unusual pesto, apple halves to be used for making apple cakes & muffins, 5 lb frozen organic bell pepper strips (from PA peppers on sale at Whole Foods for...$1/lb!!!) for chilis and soups, dried herbs for...well...anything, frozen watermelon puree for a taste of summer anytime, jars & jars of Green Tomato & Apple Chutney, apple sauce, frozen blueberries from my boss' garden, frozen grated zucchini for zucchini bread, dried mint for peppermint tea, garlic scape pesto for a pasta or pizza, garden-fresh canned tomatoes for Ribollita...

I'm very excited to have all this seasonal (mostly local and organic) produce ready for my out-of-season use. Of course, the frozen apples and peppers won't be crisp like they are fresh, but that's OK for fall & winter purposes. This time of year I crave soups and stews & other "wet food" as a friend of mine used to call it. In short, the lack of crispness isn't as important if it's going to be simmering in an Chicken Tortilla Soup for 30 minutes, ya know?

It's going to be a good winter.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Recipe: Sage Shortbread

I am not a baker. I mean-- don't get me wrong-- I love baked goods and sweets. I just don't particularly enjoy making them. For me, baked goods seem more tedious and dirty all the bowls, scoops and measuring utensils I own whereas for most of the savory dishes I make I dirty no more than a knife, cutting board and Dutch oven (part of it is that you don't need to measure, certainly).

However, my friend Sarah (now living on the left coast), is quite the baker. And, when I was complaining a while about about the amount of sage I needed to deal with, she gave me a recipe for Sage-Scented Shortbread. Sarah knows me all too well...if it's uncomplicated and dirties only 1 dish, it's for me. And, this recipe comes together all in a food processor. (Or, in my case, the mini food processor attachment to my immersion blender). Additionally, Sarah reports the dough freezes fabulously.
What does this cookie taste like? Well, they're not terribly sweet. In fact, they're a tad bit salty. The sage is very subtle...I'll increase the amount in the future. They would be perfect for a tea party or something different at holiday cookie exchanges. So delicious. Thank you, Sarah!

Below is the recipe & how I made it in my small-capacity food processor.

  • 2 c all purpose flour, divided
  • 1/2 c powdered sugar, divided
  • 3 tbsp thinly sliced fresh sage leaves, divided (the original recipe has 2 tbsp, but I think a bit more would be nice)
  • 1 tsp coarse kosher salt, divided
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
  • Put 1 c flour, 1/4 c powdered sugar, 1.5 tbsp sage leaves and 1/2 tsp kosher salt in a food processor. Process until combined.
  • Add 1 stick of butter (cut into a few pieces) to the food processor and process until the dough is formed.
  • Lay dough on a piece of wax paper, parchment or cling wrap and form into a 1-1/2 in wide log. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or until firm or package for the freezer.
  • Repeat with the rest of the ingredients.
  • To bake, preheat oven to 350*F. Slice cookies and place on lined baking sheets (you can place them fairly closely; they don't spread). Bake 10 minutes, rotate pans and bake another 10-15 minutes.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Farmer's Market: What You Get For the Money

Farmer's markets have the reputation for being more expensive than Whole Foods. Honestly, I don't see how it's possible for some place to be more expensive than Whole Foods! (Da-dum-tum. I'll be here all week!)

Awhile ago, Gradually Greener did a post on What $35 buys at the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market. I found it very interesting. As a spin-off, I'd like to demonstrate what $24 dollars ($30 sans breakfast, as it turns out) buys at the Falls Church Farmer's Market in early Fall. My rules for myself were: I had to, at the very least, buy the "dirty dozen" foods organic, and get enough vegetables for our needs for the week and not go over budget. Armed with my new, adorable harvesting basket (see above!) and cash, I set out for the market before the crowds got there. The husband hates navigating crowds.

I'm actually surprised by how well I did! Granted, I stayed focused and didn't buy any of the artisan breads, pastries, or cheeses. Or any meat products, for that matter. Here's the haul (with prices):

My market basket overflow-th!
Kohlrabi ($3. Organic), cooking celery ($3. Organic), 4 asian pears ($5. Organic), carrots ($2.50), green beans ($4.50. I think there's about 1.25 lbs), turnips ($3), broccoli ($3).

This is actually more vegetables than we probably need, given that we also have some mustard greens in the garden that need to be used, but I was determined to spend all of my allotted cash. Some sacrifices were made: We passed up some lovely seckel pairs because they were $7 for a basket full.

I'm really pleasantly surprised with the results. Almost everything that is pictured above is edible; I'll be using the greens of both the turnips and the kohlrabi along with the bulbs in an Indian-spiced stew. Apparently, carrot tops are also edible but I'm not sure I'll use them (as you can see, I've got a lot of greens to deal with already).

In full disclosure, we went to the grocery store after the farmer's market & picked up onions & ginger as well as some non-produce stuff: a rotisserie chicken, bread, tomato soup for lunch; kielbasa and italian sausage that was on sale; chickpeas; grits; a few boxes of mac & cheese (I know, I know. But sometimes you have a craving for crap mac & cheese. We will perhaps ironically pair it with the farmer's market broccoli); and some other misc things. That total, which includes more meat than we'll eat this week, was $42.

So, we spent $66 on groceries this week, which is actually on par with what we would have spent if we got our vegetables at the grocery story (Harris Teeter) rather than the farmer's market. And the farmer's market has the added bonus of supporting local farmers and being picked yesterday!

I'll think I'll do occasional updates on this post as the seasons change to see if some seasons are just more expensive at the farmer's market. Until then, I'll hone my shopping skills.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Recipe: Fall in a Bowl- Butternut Squash & Sage Risotto

Let me get this out of the way: Parmigiano Reggiano is my second favorite cheese (any kind of blue cheese is my first). Also, you should know I *love* cheese in a very unhealthy way. So, add these together and you get a person that really, really, really likes parm. A lot.

That said, I don't think this risotto needs Parmesan at all. Blasphemy, I know, risotto is supposed to have parm. Whatever. This dish is like a bowlful of fall and I think the pungentness of the parm would just get in the way. If you happen to be watching your waistline, this is a great seasonal recipe. It's creamy and the scant amount of bacon (works out to less than a slice per person & no other fat is used) gives it a deep, luxurious taste. And, the butternut squash almost doubles the volume of the recipe limiting the amount of carbs. Save the calories you would have spent on the cheese and indulge in a piece or two of Halloween candy. :P

This would serve 4 for lunch with side salad. Or 2 for dinner.

1 butternut squash, halved and seeds scooped out
3 slices of your favorite bacon, diced (cut off the large areas of fat if you like)
1 small onion, diced
1 c arborio rice (you can get it at Trader Joe's)
1/2 c light, crisp beer (I used Yuengling. You could also use white wine)
2 c chicken stock
20 sage leaves, chopped and divided
parm, if you must

1. Preheat oven to 400*F. Place butternut squash halves face down on a roasting pan. Add a bit of water and cover. Cook for 25 minutes or until squash is very tender.
2. Meanwhile...Put the bacon in a saucepan and brown. When half-way done, add onions and half of the sage.
3. Heat the stock in another pan on medium-low. You'll need to have a constant supply of warm stock so that you don't cool down the risotto when you add it.
4. When onions are translucent, add the rice and toss in the bacon drippings. Let "toast" for about a minute.
5. Add beer, stir and let evaporate. When the pan is almost dry, add a few ladle-fulls of the warm stock. Stir occasionally until absorbed. Once absorbed, repeat adding stock, stirring, etc. until rice is done. You may need to add a bit more liquid (in the form of water) if after 2 cups your rice isn't quite done.
6. Scoop out insides from cooked squash and add into risotto using a fork to mash the larger pieces. Add in remaining sage and season with salt & pepper. Oh, and add parm if you find it absolutely necessary.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tune In Tonight: Botany of Desire on PBS at 8pm

Botany of Desire is a fascinating early book of Michael Pollan. He examines 4 crops (apples, tulips, marijuana and potatoes) and their relationship to human desires (for drinking, beauty, mind-bending and sustenance).

I'm almost done with the book. Overall, I found it extremely interesting. Indeed, throughout most of it I was left wondering: Are the plants controlling us? Or are we controlling the plants? I mean, our fascination with them has all but guaranteed the survival, and proliferation, of their species, which is all they really want. Are they playing us? Not to mention he knocks Johnny Appleseed off his folk-hero pedestal (Those apples were for hard cider. And he was, as an adult, engaged to a child.), points out that the favorites in the Tulip Craze were really diseased flowers (A fungus would cause crazy coloration. Propagating these flowers would just spread the evil fungus), notes that via selective breeding man has made marijuana perfectly suited to indoor growing ( crossing two plants) and....well...I haven't finished the potato chapter yet.

I would imagine the collaboration of Michael Pollan & PBS would lead to an extremely well-done documentary. In the DC area it's on MPT at 8pm tonight!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

An Unexpected Bouquet

One of my volunteer assignments last Saturday was to snap *all* of the flowers off 5,000+ pansies. Apparently, they aren't needed yet and if the petals drop while they are in the greenhouse, fungal issues can happen. When it was all over, a trash can was almost filled with pansy flowers.

I don't think I've ever seen a sadder sight.

Pansies are so cheerful. In the winter, they are the most cheery part of a landscape really: their happy little faces peep out through the snow. Flowers have meaning (thanks Victorians!) and, unsurprisingly, "pansies" are said to reflect merriment and "you occupy my thoughts." The name comes from the French pensée meaning "thought", and was so named because the flower resembles a human face. The modern pansy's parents were English weeds. Pretty weeds, but weeds nonetheless! Unfortunately, I cannot grow them as they are a favorite treat of the neighborhood bunnies. Hateful creatures.

I couldn't let those numerous pansies be cut down, in the prime of their lives, for no good reason. I save several handfuls to take home. My favorite, out of the half-dozen or so varieties in the greenhouse, was Delta Pure Primrose. It was a large white, billowing off-white flower with a warm yellow center and the scent of a rose. Yes! A fragrant pansy! At least, it smells good to my nose.....

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All About: Garlic

I bought garlic from Southern Exposure Seeds' mix that includes artichoke-type softneck, silverskin-type softneck, rocambole-type hardneck and purple-striped hardneck garlic varieties. The hardneck types will provide scapes (flower stalk) in the spring and the softneck types are best for braiding.

To plant:
Break the cloves off of the garlic head and plant in full-sun in well-drained soil. Plant the hard and softneck types 1-2 inches deep. Then, in the spring, side-dress with compost or blood meal.

To harvest:
When 75% of the leaves are brown, the garlic is ready to pick. Lay plants in airy, dark, dry spot for several weeks to cure. Save the largest, healthiest bulbs to for next year.

Additional Info:
Garlic is said to help repel aphids.

History (via Wikipedia):

Garlic has been used as both food and medicine in many cultures for thousands of years, dating at least as far back as the time that the Giza pyramids were built. Garlic is still grown in Egypt, but the Syrian variety is the kind most esteemed now.

Garlic is mentioned in the Bible and the Talmud. Hippocrates, Galen, Pliny the Elder, and Dioscorides all mention the use of garlic for many conditions, including parasites, respiratory problems, poor digestion, and low energy. Its use in China was first mentioned in A.D. 510.

Garlic was rare in traditional English cuisine (though it is said to have been grown in England before 1548) and has been a much more common ingredient in Mediterranean Europe. Garlic was placed by the ancient Greeks on the piles of stones at crossroads, as a supper for Hecate (Theophrastus, Characters, The Superstitious Man); and according to Pliny, garlic and onions were invoked as deities by the Egyptians at the taking of oaths. (Pliny also states that garlic demagnetizes lodestones, which is not factual.) The inhabitants of Pelusium, in lower Egypt (who worshiped the onion), are said to have had an aversion to both onions and garlic as food.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

2010 Garden Plan

Thanks to all the commenters helping me decide how many of each new-to-my-garden vegetable to plant! I think I've come up with a preliminary plan which will probably be tweaked over the winter. Here's what I've got so far:

So.many.colors. Anyways, here's what it amounts to-
Clematis- 1
Tomatoes- 6
Sweet peppers- 3
Cucumbers- 4 (2 specialty kind; 2 slicing or pickling kind)
Swiss chard- 24
Marigolds- 24
Summer squash- 2
Arugula- 3 square feet
Onions- 16
Radish- 16
Garlic- 24
Blueberries- 2 (thinking about buying a 3rd that is bearing fruit. Mine are still a few years off from that)
Dahlias- 4
Mustard- 12
Strawberry- lots

...and then herbs (most of which are already in place).

I'm trying to make my garden look more French potager than Virginia farm (if only I could afford boxwoods to surround it!). Next spring and summer will be the true test.

I looking forward to researching these vegetables further this winter (stay tuned to more All About posts...)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Please Help!

If this weekend isn't a total & complete wash-out, I'm hoping to plant my garlic. I'm going to use garlic as part of my pest management so I want to locate it near plants where aphids, Japanese beetle, and carrot fly would be a problem. Which means I need to figure where I'm going to plant those things!

So, kind gardeners, please leave me a comment if you've planted in the past:
-Swiss Chard
-Arugula, spinach or other lettuce
-Mustard or collard greens

I would *love* to know how many of each you planted (for things that can have multiple plantings, how much was your first planting), how many people are in your household, and whether this was too much/not enough/just right.

I feel like I've got a good handle on how many to plant of my other crops (tomatoes- 6, hot peppers- 3 or 4, and sweet peppers- 4). But the ones that will be new to me? Clueless!

Thank you so much in advance!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Update! Fall Garden So Far

Well, the rain has finally stopped so I was able to go out and get a good look at my Darwinian fall garden. Not only has the rain taken me away from the garden, but so has my day job as well as some classes I'm taking. This garden is really on its own. My take-aways?

1) My garden does not get much light in the fall. The plants are still quite small because of this. In the future, planting greens in the other side yard in my ginormous pots would be a better idea.

2) I've got a cabbage worm problem on my kale.

Awesome. On both accounts.

I think the cabbage worm is the proper pest for #2 given photos I've found of their damage as well as seeing lots of what I thought were quite pretty white butterflies around (um, those are adult cabbage worms.).

I suppose this is what gardening is all about: Learning from mistakes, working against the odds, etc. I'm just a bit disappointed since I was really, really looking forward to the kale! I'm down, but I'm not out, though! Here's my action plan:

- Do a better job at monitoring and handpick (::shudder::) worms off the plants when I see them.
- If that doesn't help, consider using Bacillus thuringiensis insecticide.
- If the kale is still a skeleton, throw hands up in the air & hope for better luck next year. :)

On the bright side, my mustard greens are doing quite well against the odds. The variety is Florida Broadleaf, so I think it's a kindred spirit (I'm from FL). I've found I really like to use the young mustard greens in salad. It's peppery like arugula (which, btw, didn't really germinate for me. Not sure if it was the seeds or the squirrels digging everywhere...)

So, there you have it. The fall garden is (mostly) surviving but hardly thriving. But that's OK, I think. There's always next year.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: How Climate Change Affects Thanksgiving and Your Birthday

In honor of Blog Action Day on climate change, I want to talk about food.

Yes, food. For me, nothing brings back fonder memories than food. I can remember the smell of collard greens cooking for Thanksgiving, my all-time favorite holiday. Then there is the smell of kielbasa sausage on the grill that reminds me of the very first meal my mother & I enjoyed after she bought our first house or the smell of cinnamon which is what that house always smelled like. Sometimes, it’s more of a texture thing like the pleasant denseness of my paternal grandfather’s “brown bread” or the smooth, not chunky, filling of my maternal grandmother’s pecan pie or even the melt-in-your-mouth consistency of the bbq brisket at my wedding.

If you consider it, all celebrations include some sort of food. Birthdays have cake (or in the instance of my husband, pie), Thanksgiving has turkey, Passover has a whole host of traditional foods, Halloween has candy and, in my house, Easter has the Cadbury Egg. Food is not only what sustains us, but also how we show we care (via chicken noodle soup when someone’s not feeling well), we love (via a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day) and we relate to each other (via happy hours with friends or dinner & a movie with dates).

Food also is an integral part of our cultural history. I come from a long line of stubborn Southern women that love to cook, eat and feed others. Part of my identity comes from the very distinctive foods I grew up with and I love sharing that with people. Whether it’s proving to them just how delicious cabbage can be or introducing them to greens, I love to share about where I come from. I similarly love learning about others from food. Whether it’s my coworker sharing the pupusa her grandmother made or my husband making pikliz, it’s all delicious and fascinating. Who said the shortest distance between 2 people was through their stomachs? I’ve always found that to be true. You probably can’t leave my house without some bit of herb, a few spare tomatoes or a handful of dahlias.

So, what is the point I am trying to make? Food is important. More important than we initially realize. It’s how we express ourselves, it’s how we celebrate, it’s part of our identity, and it’s how we stay alive. And this is why climate change’s impact on agriculture (or agriculture’s impact on climate change: it’s responsible for 7% of US greenhouse gas emissions…and we don’t even produce all our own food), indeed our entire food system, is so frightening:

Recent studies indicate that increased frequency of heat stress, droughts and floods negatively affect crop yields and livestock beyond the impacts of mean climate change, creating the possibility for surprises, with impacts that are larger, and occurring earlier, than predicted using changes in mean variables alone. This is especially the case for subsistence sectors at low latitudes. Climate variability and change also modify the risks of fires, pest and pathogen outbreak, negatively affecting food, fiber and forestry. Source: EPA

To be fair, increasing temperatures could lengthen the growing season for many areas of the country. Climate change does have that going for it. It could also make it too warm to grow “traditional” foods in some places, like wine-making grapes in Napa, shorten the growing season for places hampered by hot summers (like my native FL) or increase the chance of severe droughts through soil evaporation.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not up for “the possibility of surprises” when it comes to my food or its domestic production. Even if you firmly believe climate change is nothing more than just a climate cycle, wouldn’t local, organic sourcing of food and/or limiting consumption be a good thing in terms of your wallet, waistline, your local economy and the planet? I mean, it seems like a win-win situation, doesn’t it? And I won’t even get into the issues it would present to the developing world that already struggles with food production and does not have the technology, the money to buy the technology, nor, in many cases, the capacity to produce the technology that will ultimately be needed to cope with what scientists predict lies ahead.

Food is hard to grow. Any gardener can assure you that some years, despite best efforts, something is just going to fail to thrive. Add in a few floods, pathogen outbreaks, and severe droughts and even the most experienced farmer is going to have big issues...and those issues directly impact the food you put in your mouth and its costs. It's just not something I feel humans should leave to chance.

Thus, I encourage you, dear reader, to think about food: How it is apart of your life? What food legacy you want to leave to future generations? Every decision we make has an impact. Make sure your decisions today match your vision of the future.

For more blog action day entries, go to their homepage:

Monday, October 12, 2009

CSA Monday! Last Edition

This week was the final week for my CSA. I really enjoyed it, but am glad it's over. I prefer doing the meal planning/grocery shopping at the end of the week but with CSA pick-up on Monday, that became difficult if I wanted to use the vegetables soon after they were picked. I would recommend everyone to try a CSA for a season. See if it fits your lifestyle. You're bound to discover new & exciting vegetables as well as learn more about where your food comes from (Farms, IMO, are very different from gardens).

I am, however, committed now to eating as much local, organic produce as possible. However, from now on I will visit my local farmer's market. There you can find really cool local varieties. Plus, going to the farmer's market is just plain FUN and mine has chocolate almond crossiants.

Lucky for me, although my delivered CSA is over I've still got the gleaning of the fields this weekend. I'm pretty positive I will go. It sounds like there are lots of greens to be had and those put up so well in the freezer, as well as my belly. The husband will be doing a 6-hour mountain bike race and destined to be exhausted (and ravenous) afterwards so perhaps I will be a darling and make a big pot of bacony, freshly picked Southern greens with cornbread and black-eyed peas (and maybe a roasted chicken) to greet him.

Anywho, onto this week. I'll upload a photo when I get home (the camera was in the husband's car).

The Haul:

small pumpkin, lettuce, young mustard greens, sorrel (I didn't take any), honey!, corn, potatoes

The Plan:

Big Salad: Last night I used the young mustard greens and the lettuce again in a big salad with a homemade vingariette. I love the young mustard greens raw. Tastes like a more assertive arugula.

Potato Corn Chowder: It was 50*F this morning! Soups of all sorts just sound fabulous right now. And a creamy, dreamy potato corn chowder sounds heavenly...

Pumpkin Muffins: The pumpkin is not big enough to make more pumpkin soup (which turned out fabulous, btw) so I'm thinking about making muffins for breakfast.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How To Deal with Pests

Of the garden variety, of course. Dealing with the cubemate that smacks their gum or the dude down the hall that uses speaker phone is 100% something I cannot help you with. But you have my sympathies.

My garden this year, mercifully, has been almost pest-free. However, I know that in future years I may not be so lucky. I had been hearing about integrated pest management (IPM). You know, that it was a great, holistic approach to controlling the creepy crawlies in the garden. So, I looked into it.

To be clear, IPM is not organic gardening. Chemical pesticides can be used in IPM practices as a last resort. But using IPM practices can be compatible with organic gardening. Basically, IPM is a process by which you first decide on your threshold tolerance for damage. Then, you monitor your plants frequently. Next, when you see damage, you identify the pest. After identification you move onto cultural (meaning growing environment), biological or chemical controls. And finally, at the end of the season you evaluate the effectiveness of what you did during the year and decide on what you will do different for the next season. It's an iterative process.

What does this mean? Basically every few days, you stroll around your garden looking to see any signs of damage. Then, if you see the damage, you figure out the cause and employ first cultural, then biological, and, if it comes to it, chemical controls to selectively eliminate your pest. Next, you evaluate how things went and how you can improve for the future.

Sounds so intuitive doesn't it?!? It also sounds familiar! Of the many books I read this winter to gear up for having a more successful garden, all of the organic ones suggested monitoring, doing preventative cultural practices and selectively eliminating the problem pest. The large difference from what I read in organic gardening books/magazines and IPM, aside, of course, for the permitted use of chemicals, was the evaluation part at the end. It totally makes sense when you hear it, but it's totally not something that occurred to me. I mean, I certainly have reflected on what plants were successful and which weren't, but pest management? Nope. Perhaps because it's more enjoyable to think about plants than bugs?!?

Below is an action plan I designed for the 4 most common pests in the DC/NoVA area. This year I, unbeknownst to me, I largely followed the monitor and cultural controls with very good results. Next year, I will work more on beefing up the biological before jumping into chemical (reaching for insecticidal soap is much easier than attracting ladybugs!!).

Click image to enlarge and print.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

CSA Monday! Pumpkin Edition

CSA Monday is on Thursday this week! With just one week to go, I'm stoked about the pumpkins as shown here:

corn, pumpkin, sweet potato, eggplant, radish, and (not shown) lettuce & young mustard greens.

The Plan:

Big Salad: I mixed the lettuce & the young mustard greens and added radishes and cucumbers (from last week) and some leftover roasted chicken. Perfect, healthy workday dinner.

Pumpkin Soup: Um, it's fall. And 2 pumpkins just fell into my brainer.

As for the rest? No clue what will end up happening to it. I'm actually livin' la vida loca in New Orleans right now. Makes me wish I had a little okra to stew up some gumbo!!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Apples! Apples! Apples!

Last weekend we went apple picking. It is only now that I can see out from under my mountain of apples. We picked just over 25 lbs worth and only paid $25! Total deal, especially considering that we had a great time doing it and you can't beat the freshness.

But, this also meant that we had 25 lbs of apples! We primarily picked Grimes Golden and Jonathan as they are semi-tart apples good for cooking which we knew was what we would be doing with most of the apples. We also picked some Golden Delicious for eating. Note: I think Golden Delicious from the grocery store are certainly "golden" but rarely "delicious." They always seem to have a mealy texture. But just-picked, local Golden Delicious are, in fact, crunchy and delicious!

My husband made his annual apple pie using exclusively the Grimes Golden. It was fabulous! The husband's pie is a bit of an inexact science; never the same pie twice. This time included 6-8 sliced & peeled apples, a splash of vanilla, 1 tsp-ish of cinnamon, a splash of rum, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, and 2 Tbsp of flour all mixed together and put, expertly, between 2 Pilsbury pie crusts. I think it was his best pie yet. Another idea? ModernDomestic's Apple Turnovers. Or Smitten Kitchen's Apple Tart.

Next up? Apple sauce. I know, groan, apple sauce. But, seriously, this is wicked good apple sauce. I used 26 apples, a 50-50 mix of the Grimes Golden and the Jonathan. This was key as the Jonathan break down pretty easily while the Grimes retain their shape better. Thus yielding a delighfully smooth sauce with chunks here & there (my favorite consistancy). To the apples, I added about 2 cups of water (to aid in the cooking down), 2 long cinnamon sticks (from the Asian grocery store. Way cheaper spices there), 1 tsp of ground cloves and 2 Tbsp of dark brown sugar. Really, the cloves are what made this sauce, aside from the consistancy. After I made this, I canned it. It yielded 2 quart jars, 1 pint, and a small container for immediate consumption. Another idea? Chutney. Like Simply Recipes' or my version.

And, finally, I was left with probably 15 lbs of apples even after a large batch of apple sauce, an apple pie and snacking on a few apples throughout the day. I learned last year that if I don't process all of the apples, save the ones destined for raw consumption, the weekend they are picked, I just won't get around to it. So, I decided to freeze them. Basically, wash, peel and quarter your apples. Put them in a water-lemon juice mixture so they won't oxidize and then place on cookie sheets (or layer on a cookie sheet putting parchment or plastic wrap between the layers) and freeze (see first photo). Once (individually) frozen, you can place these into larger freezer bags and use the apples for future pies, sauces, cakes, chutneys... you name it! They won't be very good for using raw, these frozen apples. They'll get a bit mushy in the freezer (think frozen strawberries vs. fresh)

My other favorite ways to use apples:
- Dipped in caramel sauce
- Put slices or chunks into pancake batter (if going the slice route, place slices on batter once poured in pan)
- In stuffing
- Muffins
- Cake

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Recipe: Sweet Potatoes and Ham

Ham! Sweet potatoes! What a fantastic combo.

Here's what you do for ham-y sweet potatoes. Take half of a pre-cooked ham. Score the outside. Slice the sweet potatoes. Line a baking dish with sweet potatoes. Place the cut-side of the ham on the sweet potatoes. If you wish, apply a glaze to the ham (I mix grainy mustard and brown sugar). Bake at 350*F until the internal temperature of the ham is 140*F.

By then, the potatoes are also done...and delicious....and taste smoky and salty and, well, kind of like ham.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Busy Bee

Work and some outside activities have cranked up the volume. Not to mention apple picking from last weekend and getting a dehydrator (!!!).

While I haven't been able to post much this week you can look forward to these upcoming topics:
- 3 ways to deal with an excess of apples
- How to make sweet potatoes taste like ham (sorry, vegetarians!)
- Winter herb storage
- Holistic approach to dealing with garden pests


Monday, September 28, 2009

CSA Monday! Watermelon Edition

I walk to pick up our CSA. Let me tell you...walking a mile with a watermelon in your sack is not fun. But thanks to the glorious fall-ish weather, I didn't break a sweat! The jerk chicken from last week was good. The jerk seasoning was also nice on the sweet potatoes. I really like to spice up my sweet potatoes. When I make sweet potato fries I usually add chili powder.

The Haul:
Watermelon, huge zucchini, cucumber, Italian basil, Thai basil, huge sweet potatoes, garlic and lettuce mix

The Plan:

Spicy Vegetable Red Sauce with Pasta: Basically, I'm just using of the squash and eggplant from last week that I shamefully didn't get around to using along with the mammoth zucchini from the week. Add in some garlic, onions, crushed red pepper and a can of tomatoes and it's good eatin'. For an army.

Ham Feast: Roasted sweet potatoes, ham and Southern-style greens spiked with cider vinegar.

Kra Pow with Bok Choy: To use the Thai basil. And hot peppers from the garden. This is the husband's lunch.

"Greek" Watermelon Salad
: Maybe for this weekend's lunch? Sounds interesting.

Watermelon Rind Pickles: If I've got the time, maybe something else I'll give a whirl this weekend. I've never had them, but love all things pickled.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Putting Up: Green Tomato & Apple Chutney

Believe it or not, my Sungolds are *still* producing. Slower, but I still get about 1/2 a pint of ripe cherry tomatoes per week. This weekend, I gleaned the garden. With the crispness of fall in the air and chilly nights I just feel like it is time to pull those babies up. May they RIP.

I oven-dried the ripe tomatoes (a whole tray full!) but what to do with the green tomatoes? I got inspired by Gradually Greener and decided to make a green tomato chutney. However, I don't have fig jam to use as a base.

Below is a recipe I found online but I've tweaked it to volume rather than weight which I think is probably more easy to follow. If you're going to can this, follow to ratio of tomatoes/onions/sugar/vinegar/etc. closely. You can certainly vary the spices but this is pretty darn good! If you aren't up for canning, freezing would work too.

5 c green cherry tomatoes, halved (about 2 1/4 lb)
2 Granny Smith apples, diced (about 1 lb)
2 medium onions, sliced
4 c cider vinegar
2 c brown sugar, minus 2 tbsp
1 c raisins
1.5 tsp mustard powder
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

few tsp of oil

1. Heat oil in a pan. Add onions & caramelize.
2. Next, add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer and cook for 45 min (up to 1 hour) or until thickened into a sauce.
3. If not canning, cool and either freeze or place in fridge.
4. If canning, boil jars and lids for 10 minutes. While still hot, pour in boiling chutney, place on lids (with fresh seals) and put back into the boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Let cool for 8 hours and check seals. Those that are well sealed, put up. Those that aren't, put in fridge and eat soon.

Makes 3 pints. Use this with roasted pork or chicken or with cheese and crackers. Or give as a holiday present to coworkers or a hostess gift for Thanksgiving (this would be fabulous with a good roast turkey).


Friday, September 25, 2009

Recipe: Spiced Grill GTG

This past weekend the husband & I hosted a party. It's not quite so hot now and bugs are *almost* non-existent, so how could you not? Especially since our house is the size of a tin can so if we want to have people over it's best to do it when we can all be outside.

Here's the menu:
Iced tea
Tinto de verano

Cumin-cilantro turkey sliders
Salmon burgers

Mustard-y slaw
Baked beans

The recipes:

Tinto de verano
I had this in Spain where it's surprisingly difficult to find sangria. This is just as tasty & far easier to throw together.

1 bottle of temparillo, chilled
1 L 7Up or Sprite, chilled
lemon slices, optional

-Mix all ingredients in a pitcher and serve, chilled. (Yes, that's a lemon-lime soda in wine. Yes, it's good and I *promise* they use that in Espana. Use cheap wine though. Trader Joe's has a nice one for $3.99. I call that "party priced")

Cumin-cilantro turkey sliders

1 lb ground turkey
1/2 bunch of cilantro, finely chopped
salt & pepper
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1/4 c Panko breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten

Condiments/toppings (I did garlic-chipolte mayo, salsa, ketchup, lettuce, slice red onion, hot peppers, and banana peppers available).

-Mix first group of ingredients, working as little as possible.
-Form burgers into patties & grill until cooked through. Put on bun & top as desired. :)

Salmon burgers
This is another recipe from my grandmother that I've tweaked a bit. Again, this recipe was born in the 1950s so canned salmon is called for. Yes, you could probably use cooked fresh salmon, but I find canned to be convenient and you can get wild Alaskan for cheaper than you can get fresh. It's a great way to incorporate more oily fish if you're on a budget. Plus, it's an easy pantry meal. Makes about 4 normal-sized patties, 8 slider-sized.

1 can wild Alaskan salmon, drained and backbone & skin removed
1/2 onion, finely chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 c oatmeal
1 Tbsp flour
1 egg, beaten
hearty pinch of cayenne pepper

-Mix all of the ingredients together. You should be able to form patties that hold together. If the mixture is too dry, add a bit of milk. If it's too wet, add more oatmeal or flour.
-Once your patties are formed, heat a bit of oil in a frying pan. Cook patties on both sides until brown.
-Drizzle with lemon juice. Serve on a bun with fixin's if you want or eat as is (which is what we often do)

Mustard-y Cole Slaw

A Cooking Light recipe (linked above). The only change I made was to use cider vinegar instead of white, just because I prefer it.

Garlic-Chipolte Mayo
I love this condiment. It's kind of a no-recipe, recipe. Basically take about a half of cup of your favorite mayo and add a finely minced clove of garlic and 1 (or 2!) finely minced canned chipoltes (The kind in adobo sauce. You can freeze the leftover peppers for later). Let the mayo mix sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Raising Winter Greens

I attended the DC Urban Gardeners/Washington Gardener Magazine/DC Historical Society session on raising winter greens presented by farmer at Even' Star Organic Farm, Brett Grohsgal. The husband tagged along.

It was really informative! And entertaining.

Here is what I learned (or was reminded):

  • Your soil is your biggest investment in the garden.
  • Veggies, on the whole, like to be well-drained.
  • Snow? Not a problem. Iced over snow? Also not a problem. Freezing wind? Big problem.
  • DO NOT plant greens in late August. (ah! My procrastination paid off!) The bugs will eat your little sprouts before they can have a chance. Best to plant greens in late September.
  • Good fall crops for this area are: arugula, mustard, turnips, collards, kale and radishes. Lettuces, dandelion and raddicchio can be successful as well.
  • Chinese Thick-Stem Mustard is apparently pretty good.
  • Southern Expsoure Seed Company and FedCo are good seed companies for this area.
  • Rules of Raising Winter Greens in DC Area:
  • Sow Sept 3-Oct 15th
  • Water frequently (to get good roots. Every 3 days unless it rains)
  • Thin when seedlings have 6 leaves
  • Fertilize using fish emulsion, 1/2-3/4 strength
  • Use leaf mulch to insuluate
  • Channel 7 has the best forecasts
  • RADICAL Winter Planting: If you dare....
  • For lettuces, peas, carrots
  • Work AS SOON as the ground has thawed enough (there's generally a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle here)
  • January 28-March 15: Direct sow crops. High mortality rate so plant lots
  • This doesn't work very well for braassicas or transplants other than onions & leeks.

100th Post!

Here's where it all started: What I'm Reading

The promise of spring, indeed! Now I'm successfully grown plants from seed, build raised beds, harvested hoards of home grown tomatoes, almost finished my CSA, and learned so much in the process.

These days I'm reading Botany of Desire and Safe Sex in the Garden (about allergy-free gardening. Get your minds out of the gutter!).

Monday, September 21, 2009

CSA Monday! *Honey* Edition

I'll admit it: I'm getting a bit burned out on summer vegetables. The thing I'm looking forward to most with dark, leafy greens and root vegetables. But, today's the last day of summer so it's fitting I'm still getting summery goodness plus a healthy dose of liquid gold.

Here's the haul:
sweet potatoes, honey!!!, summer squash, corn, cucumber, eggplant and lettuce.

The Plan:
I'm going to put up the squash and eggplant by grilling and then freezing them. I really can't fathom eating more squash or eggplant or tomatoes right now. Seriously.

Salad for lunch

Mark Samuelsson's Jerk Chicken: The husband is going to make this. The recipe in our cookbook calls for roasting the chicken over sweet potatoes and parsnips. Will serve this with some pikliz.

I'm also going to make a double batch of split pea soup this weekend and go apple picking (so some appley and honey-y desserts may take place).'s it. We've been pretty lame with our meal planning lately. Sorry guys!

Mark Your Calendar!

Fall can be a pretty slow time in the garden, especially if you aren't growing winter vegetables. You may want a bit of a break from harvesting and gardening or perhaps you'd like a little something to hold you over until spring.

Lots of goings on for fall round these parts:

Edible Gardening/Food-related:
At Brookside Gardens (Wheaton, MD)-
Sept 21, 7:30pm: Growing Fall Edibles

At US Botanic Gardens (aka USBG. DC)-
October 3, 1pm: Chocolate, A Consumer's Guide & Tasting

At Merrifield Garden Center (near Falls Church, VA)-
Sept 26- Intro to Cooking with Fresh Herbs

Ornamental Gardening-Related:
At Meadowlark Botanic Gardens (in Vienna, VA. Cost= Admission to gardens)-
October 3rd 10 am: Propagating and Growing Salvias
October 4, 2 p.m:
Tour of the Potomac Valley Native Plant Collection
October 10, 10 a.m: Ornamental Grasses Tour
October 17, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Re-blooming Iris Fall Show

Sept 26, 1pm: Tour of National Garden

Garden Photography-Related:
October 9, 6:30 pm: The Power of Natural Light

Other suggestions Food/Gardening-Related:
Go apple picking
Visit the National Arboretum
Plant spring bulbs
Watch Botany Desire (a GREAT book by Michael Pollan) on PBS on Oct 28th. Preview here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Early Fall Garden Update

I was super duper lazy with my fall planting. Next year I think that I'm going to need to do my fall garden plan and plant dates in the winter so that I take out any possible guesswork/thinking. Fall is a busy time at work so I just don't have time to sit around and think about the garden; fall is the time for going on auto pilot!

So, on Labor Day (yes, I'm also slow with the posting) I threw down some radish, carrot, kale, mustard and arugula seeds along with planting some starts of kohlrabi and kale starts from Merrifield. Thus far the mustard greens (pictured), radish and mustard have sprouted.

Also, our Sungolds are *still* producing. It's insane. And the Thai Dragon and Kung Pao peppers are also going nuts.

Anywho, there you have it. Hopefully in a few weeks we'll be feasting on some fall veg.

I still need to plant some garlic and onions, though. But here's part of the garden so far (those are radishes in between the kale & kohlrabi):

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Garden Planning Program


I was googling for classic designs of herb gardens and came across They've got a free trial (one that you don't have to fork over you credit card info for) so I decided to try it out.

The basic idea is that it provides a grid and a rather exhaustive list of vegetables, fruits and herbs (it also has info on growing each of these) that you drag & drop onto the garden area you've created. It's also got a crop rotation feature. Plus? You've got a record of what you've planted where each year. They also say that they will email you to remind you of planting dates.

Now, I did this by hand last year, but kept changing my mind & had to redraw the garden area each time as well as draw back in the stuff I wanted to keep (or I could have drawn in pencil. whoops).

I'm not sure that I'll covert to (the subscription is cheap at $25/year) but it's certainly something to keep in mind...

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recipe: Roasted Harissa Veg Couscous Salad

What to do with 1 zucchini, 1 crook-neck yellow squash, 1 eggplant and 1 small pepper when it feels fall-ish outside?

Predictably, my mind immediately went to roasted vegetables. But, um, that's kinda boring, ya know? Not when you roast them with red onions and harissa! Harissa is a North African spice blend that includes chili peppers and garlic along with cumin, coriander and some other spices. It gives the vegetables a smoky, almost BBQ-like flavor.

1 zucchini, cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 yellow squash, cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 eggplant, cubed into bite-sized pieces
1 small green peppers, cubed
1 red onion, in big pieces

olive oil
3 Tbsp harissa spice blend

1 box Israeli couscous (mine is from Trader Joe's)

  1. Preheat oven to 425*F.
  2. Toss the vegetables in olive oil and harissa until thoroughly combined. Spread out on sheet pan(s).
  3. Roast for 20 minutes, stir & rotate pans, and roast for another 20 minutes.
  4. Optional: When the vegetables are done, turn off the oven & let the vegetables sit inside for a little bit of time (I let mine sit for hours.). This kind of dehydrates the vegetables a bit and concentrates their carmelized flavor.
  5. Meanwhile, cook couscous according to the directions on the box.
  6. When the couscous is done, toss everything to combine.
  7. Eat with roasted meats or alone as a warm salad.

Monday, September 14, 2009

CSA Monday! Two Weeks Edition

Gah, last week I was unable to do a CSA post here's last week haul:

I did a poor job of using all the produce as well. All the sweet potatoes we still have. Some of the tomatoes got used for BLTs and the others, well the ones that didn't go bad, were used this week. The zuc, squash and eggplant got put to good use for my lunch, Harissa Roasted Veg & Israeli Couscous (recipe to be posted soon). And the corn was left for this week too (bad, I know)

This week, I got:

Deja vu, no? There's basil (italian & thai), 2 gimongous sweet tomatoes, corn, tomatoes, 1 zuc & 1 eggplant.

The Plan:

3 Bean Corn Chili: Black, dark kidney and light kidney beans mix and mingle with corn (off the cob), tomatoes, hot peppers, onions, celery and spices. To top baked sweet potatoes. Probably half of this batch will be frozen for later.

Chicken & Eggplant Kra Pow: Like regular kra pow, but with eggplant added. Yum.


Mark your calendars! Raising Winter Greens *free* talk this Saturday!!!! More info

Friday, September 11, 2009

Putting Up: Oven Dried Tomatoes

My Sungolds are still producing, although at a slower rate than before. And, we picked our final few Wonder Lights. Add in the few red tomatoes I got from the Farmer's Market and it all adds up to more tomatoes than we care to eat at the moment. Although I'm sure come December my tune will change.

I've already covered canning (I've put up 3 quarts!). Freezing oven-dried tomatoes is another idea on what to do with any tomato surplus you may have. Or, oven-drying is a great way to make faux sun-dried tomatoes for all your recipes needs!

Here's what you do:

1. Preheat oven to 300*F.
2. Slice sauce or even cherry tomatoes halfwise (big tomatoes don't work great for this). De-seed the bigger tomatoes.
3. Place tomatoes on baking tray (I line mine with tin foil for ease of clean up) along with olive oil and/or dried herbs (Optional. Note: Woody herbs work best.). Don't use salt though.
4. Bake for 45 minutes.
5. Turn off oven, but leaves tomatoes inside for 2-4 hours. They should be a bit flexible and a tad moist but have very concentrated flavor.
6. To freeze, just take the baking tray from the cooled oven & place in the freezer for a few hours. When the tomatoes are individually frozen, put in a larger ziploc bag.

I like using these in pastas and purple basil pesto as well as an earthy addition to beef stews, salads, sandwiches, etc.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Falls Church Farmer's Market

I'm probably going to kick myself later, but here it goes:

Falls Church Farmer's Market is awesome.

I used to be devoted to Eastern Market when I lived closer to it. I still like going there for all the arts and crafts but some of my favorite farmers aren't there anymore. The Court House Farmer's Market isn't bad (the berry people are awesome), but doesn't have a lot of selection. Then I discovered the Falls Church Farmer's Market which has tons of produce and meat vendors as well as local coffee roasters, sorbet/gelato makers, plant purveyors and bakers. Oh, and Virginia Master Gardeners to answer any questions about pests or plants you might have!

But mostly, I go to the Falls Church Market for this:
What is it? Only the most deliciously fantastic thing that will ever pass your lips: The chocolate-almond croissant. Perfect for those times when you cannot decide between a chocolate croissant & an almond croissant. Heaven. Check out the chocolate and almondy layers:
(This also probably includes an entire stick of butter. But that is why I walk to the farmer's market!)

There is lots of loveliness to be had at the market, but it gets pretty packed, so go early! I think I'm going to exchange our CSA for the farmer's market next year. I plan to expand our garden to cover most of our veggie needs but we will need to pick up a few things that we don't or can't grow.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Recipe: Grilled Peaches with Minty Yogurt Sauce

Peaches are one of my favorite parts of summer. When they are good, they are heaven. When they are bad, they are like a mushy, mealy, flavorless mess. Blech.

At the Farmer's Market this weekend (more on that later), we picked up some fabulous peaches. You know the kind, peachy smelling as well as firm, but ridiculous juicy. In short: Perfection.

When you've got the perfect peach, it needs very little adornment, like, for example, a minty-yogurt sauce and honey to enhance its natural sweet and freshness. The following is a perfect dessert for two me. :P


1 firm ripe peach, halved
1/2 c plain yogurt (low-fat or full-fat, your choice)
3 Tbsp chopped mint (I used Kentucky Colonel)
2 tsp brown sugar
honey, for drizzling

1. Grill peaches for about 5 minutes or until has grill marks and is slightly soften.
2. Mix yogurt, mint & brown sugar.
3. Top grilled peaches with minty yogurt sauce and a drizzle of honey.


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gardening: Not Rocket Science, Part 3

Alright. We've figured out some important details: light and soil. Moving on...

You want to look up your zone (USDA or if you're out West, I hear Sunset's zones are more helpful). Why? The important parts are the first and last frost dates as well as average high and low temperatures. The frost dates are what you'll live by if you're edible gardening. If you're planting perennials or shrubs/bushes, look for plants that can survive in your "zone" (meaning they can live with the high and low temps your area gets. you can still grow those that don't survive in your zone, but they will be annuals, not perennials for you).

Now, with the info I've droned on about, you can start making plant selection choices. I would advocate for the first time gardener to stick, at least most of the time, to the rules. This means, you choose plants that can deal with your light situation, soil situation and climate. When plants are in their ideal environment they are less susceptible to disease and pests which means you've got less maintenance and a greater chance of success. And really, not killing something feels awesome and is the surest way to encourage you to plant something else/continue to garden/make the garden bigger/etc.

I've blogged about the growing requirements for some edibles already to help you along: ground cherries, herbs, strawberries, peppers and tomatoes. Also, there are two notable inedibles in my life: my african violet and my Unwin's dahlias.

The boost of confidence, along with the knowledge that you can only really get by DOING something yourself will, in time, give you courage to plant something outside your zone or in a totally wrong light situation. In short, to experiment. After all, trying something new and taming Mother Nature seems to be what keeps gardeners excited about gardening for decades. But that first season? You need a little success. You need to be able to look around you and see things doing OK. You need to be able to think, "Hey! I can do this." And you'll realize that gardening isn't as hard or mysterious as you once thought.

Because, seriously, gardening isn't rocket science.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Gardening: Not Rocket Science, Part 2

Ok, so yesterday I blabbered on about sunlight.

Today? Soil.

In the immortal words from Fast Times at Ridgemount High: Learn it, know it, live it.

While you're monitoring the light situation, you can get better acquainted with your soil. As far as soil goes, it's important to know if it's acidic/alkaline or well-draining/moisture-retentive. If you container garden, you're in luck because you have the ultimate control over your soil and can perfectly adapt it to the plants you want to grow! Bagged, soil-less potting mixes tend to be slightly acidic, in general.

If you're planting in the ground you need to determine whether it's acidic or alkaline, you need to perform a soil test for pH. You can buy kits or you can send it off to your nearby extension office (they will do a more accurate, more thorough test and it's usually under $10!). A pH of 7 is "neutral." A pH less than 7 is "acidic" (to varying degrees) and a pH above 7 is "alkaline." Acidic is not necessarily better than alkaline for a garden. It all really depends on what you want to grow (although most plants prefer a pH between 6.2-7.2). Which is why it's handy to know what kind of soil you have.

Next, you need to evaluate how well your soil drains. Like acidic vs. alkaline, it's not necessarily better to have well-draining soil than moisture-retentive soil. It really boils down to the plants you'll ultimately select. Here's how to test the drainage of your soil: If you're using a bagged, soil-less potting mix, it's generally considered well-draining, but make sure your container has adequate drainage holes!

Armed with this information you can either amend your soil to fit the needs of the plants you want to grow or go with the flow. I have, personally, have chosen a hybrid approach: I have worked compost into my moisture-retentive clay soil to help it drain better but have not changed the pH (mine soil is around 6.0-6.5). If you decide to go the amending route, take all the information you've collected to your nearest reputable nursery & ask an expert what you need to do.

If you're making a perennial bed, I would also suggest doing a NPK (nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium) test (which if you're getting a soil test from your extension office they will automatically do or you can get a home kit for it). This makes sure that you have adequate levels of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the soil. If your levels are inadequate, your plants won't have all the nutrients they need to grow. This is important if you're planting perennials because you want them to last and won't be planting every year. It's best and easiest in the long-haul (or so I'm told) to just get everything right from the start. If you have inadequate levels, amend your soil (ask your local reputable nursery what you need to do).

Tomorrow? The final part of this triology: Plant selection.

Are you stoked yet?!?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Gardening: Not Rocket Science, Part 1

Gardening seems so mysterious, doesn't it? I mean, you put a seed in some moist dirt and in a week or two, Voila!, you've got a baby plant. I suppose part of it is that humans don't exactly understand Mother Nature. I mean, sure, we can explain some things, but others? Complete mystery despite spending centuries of research.

So, of course, it's a bit daunting for the average person to go out there and try to tame Mother Nature in their own little patch of Earth/windowsill/patio/deck. There's the unexpectedness that is always a bit scary, as well as the "OMG, What If I Kill It!" fear and a dash of "This Seems Like Science & That is Not My Forte." At least, that's what I was feeling last year when I decided to give gardening, both edible and ornamental, a "go" after my container tomato and pepper plants didn't die (but also didn't exactly thrive). I guess you could say, after tasting my first backyard tomato, I longed for more.

I fully admit, I am still very much learning. I read magazines, blogs and books on gardening. I watch TV shows on gardening. I ask advanced gardeners lots and lots of questions. I volunteer at a greenhouse. I've taken free classes and attended lectures on various topics. And then, of course, I've done a bit of gardening myself.

After a yearish of all this, I think I can definitively state: Gardening is not as scary as it first seems.

I have learned that there does seem to be some basic "rules" to gardening. These rules almost guarantee success. And, much like anything else, after you have mastered this rules you can break them. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I am still very much in the "rule-learning" stage. As far as I can tell, light and soil are the two most important things you need to know about your garden. Conveniently, you can find almost all you need to know about them in one weekend. I'm serious. The following text is very long and talks about a bit of science-y stuff, but I pinkie-swear it's not hard. And I double-dog dare you to try it. It's unfamiliar, maybe, but not hard. Just take a lazy Saturday at home and observe, every hour, how the sun hits your garden area. Write it down. As in:

8am: Full Sun everywhere
9am: Full Sun everywhere
1pm: Right hand corner starting to get shaded by tree. Dappled light there
3pm: Right half totally getting dappled light, left half getting shaded by neighbor's house.
8pm: Totally dark

I've even heard of using an organic soil amendment like blood meal (although used coffee grounds would work too) to trace where you're getting shade in the garden as the day wears on. It's useful to note if it's a tree or building that is shading the garden area because in the winter, that area will get full sun if it's shaded by a deciduous (leave-losing) tree. If you want to be thorough, you could perform this exercise every season to see how the light changes in your space. This is probably particularly important if you have either lots of trees or buildings very close to your garden space. If you've just got a wide open field, it is likely less of an issue, you lucky bastard.

If you're indoor gardening, pay attention to weather your windowsill/garden area is getting DIRECT light or indirect light. Generally, direct light will make your hand cast a definite shadow whereas indirect light won't.

With this knowledge, you can determine which parts of your garden are full sun, part-sun or shade. And, yes, your garden area might have all three of those situations in one "space."

Remember that you can't change your light situation unless you knock down buildings or cut down trees. This is really the one thing about gardening that is permanent.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Gardening, Not Rocket Science tomorrow!