Monday, May 31, 2010

I Owe You An Apology

Dear Neighborhood Squirrels,

I owe you all an apology. I have blamed you for eating my strawberries, taking one bite out of my tomatoes and other garden crimes. I know now that you likely did not commit these crimes as I never saw you in my garden; I just assumed it was you. Mammalian stereotyping is wrong. I know that now.

I saw yesterday a chipmunk committing all these crimes. It was only my second sighting of a chipmunk in my whole life and I just saw him enter the garden area, groom in preparation for a feast and then hop right through the bunny-proof fence in the strawberry patch. Watching him methodically pick and subsequently consume a strawberry lets me know this was not his first time.

So, again, I am very sorry for repeatedly accusing you of these crimes.


The Dirty Radish Family

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Nursery Rant

I'm beginning to think that some of people's gardening "failures" aren't really their fault and are the fault of the nursery where they bought the plant and/or got advice on planting. I'm not going to name the nurseries where these offenses occurred, but I can say that these incidents did not happen at a big box store.

Exhibit #1: Plants in pots that won't let them thrive.
Most people's first experience with growing something is a houseplant. I was at a nursery that was selling the *most* adorable little African violets in antique-esque measuring cups. So cute! SO unpractical. The cardinal rule of African violet growing is that they, like cats, hate being too wet. A measuring cup-turned-pot without a drainage hole is a surefire way to kill it ASAP.

Exhibit #2: Wrong information.
I want to grow a vine. After discussing several options with my horticulture teacher, I became interested in American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens). According to her (she's got like 20+ years in the field), unlike Japanese or Chinese wisteria, which are notorious for quickly taking down structures, American wisteria is much better behaved. I went to a nursery to seek it out (I have see it at Farmer's Markets). A helpful person approached me & asked if I was looking for something specific. I asked if they carried American wisterias. She said: "No, we don't. It just takes over and can pull down things, so we only carry the Japanese and Chinese ones. They are much better behaved." I didn't want to start an argument right there in the nursery (although, my iPhone was handy to show her she had mixed them up). And, as it turned out, they *did* carry cultivars of American wisteria...and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinesis).

It's unfortunate, really. Who are budding plant enthusiasts supposed to get reliable growing information from if not their local nursery?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What You Get For Your Money: Late Spring Farmer's Market

...or is it early summer? It's hard to tell with all the tomatoes and cucumbers that were at the farmer's market this week. I resisted the more summery offerings telling myself that better, cheaper tomatoes are yet to come to the market.

Once again, I ventured to the Falls Church Farmer's Market armed with $30 (the weekly amount of my CSA last year). What did I get?

1 bunch of baby red onions, 2 bunches of kohlrabi (each bunch has 3 bulbs), 4 bunches of tatsoi (an Asian green), 1 quart of yellow wax beans, 1 loaf of sunflower flax bread, 5 oz of fresh butter, and 1 bunch of multicolored radishes. My basket was overflowing. And heavy! Note that the butter & bread (total) was $10 leaving $20 for veggies.

What am I going to do with all this? Well, with the kohlrabi, I'll use the bulbs and greens in an Indian curry and serve it with naan and/or rice. I'll take the tatsoi, beans and onions and turn that into a stir-fry...maybe with some chicken or tofu...over rice noodles. I think. And, finally, the radishes, bread & butter will be breakfast as detailed by Gradually Greener.

I find it hard to go to the farmer's market with a meal plan as you just never know what's going to be there or what's going to look good. Thus, instead, I play a bit of Iron Chef as I do a loop around the market to check out the produce offerings & prices. I saw a few people with shopping lists and I was just in awe. Maybe if I went every week (which might be possible now that my Saturday class is over) I would be able to do that!

Overall, I think these vegetables should last us for a week's worth of dinner (the curry and stir-fry will last 3 meals each) and breakfast for me. For lunches for the week, my husband & I will both make meals out of things from our pantry/freezer. The only thing lacking from this trip was fruit but I think we're going to try to go strawberry picking tomorrow which should result in a ridiculous amount of berries.

It is my goal every year to be tired of strawberries and tomatoes by the end of the season. This year, I think I'll succeed at both!

Friday, May 28, 2010


Guess who has internet back?!? This girl! Mercifully, housing construction is *almost* completed leaving me more time & access to garden.

Today makes me realize why gardening is so popular in England. Mild, low-humidity, slightly drizzly weather is the perfect gardening weather. It's cool (which makes you comfortable) and it's overcast (which is perfect for planting/transplanting). I took advantage & got my garden on by removing a bush and giving my perennials a bit more space (apparently they missed the "first year they creep" part of the old saying). That basically tuckered out this 8 month pregnant lady!

And during my gardening adventures, guess what I saw?!? TWO tomatoes. Granted, only one (Stupice. 65 days to maturity) was still attached to a tomato plant, but still. I have no idea why baby tomato #2 (Sheyboygan. 80 days to maturity) fell off. I'm really surprised that my two larger varieties of tomatoes beat out the Sungold to set fruit first.

In addition to impending tomatoes, I spied some garlic scapes (aka the flower stalk of hardneck garlic). Not sure how long I should let them grow though. Anyone know? Right now they are about 6 inches.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Garden photos

It's funny how things look so tiny & puny but in just a few months they will significantly bigger and starting to set fruit. Right now, my tomatoes are flowering and I've got several fruits on the ground cherries already.
Garlic & cucumber trellises in foreground. Those tall stalks in the back are also garlic.

Zucchini, more garlic and some random kale that may or may not die soon.

Lemon verbena, ground cherries & blueberries. All netted before the birds can get at them!

Um, did I say blueberries?! Yes, I did. I bought 2 mature-ish blueberry bushes because the husband (well, let's just say he's not alone...) was getting impatient waiting for the 2 sticks I bought last year to set fruit.

I've been thinking about how to deal with this purchase in my garden total. Unlike most of my crops, these blueberry bushes will last for years and, as they mature, they will produce more fruit. I am *highly* unlikely to get $70 worth of fruit this year and it seems a bit unfair, if I keep this experiment going, that future year's blueberry harvest would be counted cost-free. So, I've decided to spread the cost of the bushes ($70 total) over 5 years (so, $14/year). Why? Because we plan on staying in this house at least 5 more years and I figured 5 was a good, "round" number. Thus, the new grand total of 2010 garden costs is:


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Putting Up: Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper Jam

Yes, I realize this isn't a post of garden photos. Those will come when it stops raining! And, yes, I realize that strawberries + balsamic vinegar + black pepper + jam sounds completely foul. But, sometimes opposites really do attract. This is one of those times, my friends.

Close your eyes. Imagine the taste of a fresh strawberry...not those big, flavorless ones, but those smaller, intense, deeply flavored ones. Now, imagine being able to spread that strawberry on toast, a biscuit, or pancakes. That's what this jam tastes like. I guess you could say it's a cheater way to take store bought strawberries (Whole Foods has a sale: 4lb for $8. Act fast!) and turn them into the image of a true strawberry.

Honestly, after this recipe, I see no reason for ever making "plain" strawberry jam again. The directions for this include canning instructions, but I'm sure you could freeze it in individual containers or give away to friends (without canning) for immediate consumption.

Strawberry Balsamic Black Pepper Jam
From: Canadian Living.

12 cups (2.8 L) strawberries, hulled
1 pkg (49 g) fruit pectin (I used Sure-Jell)
4-1/2 cups (1.125 L) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 mL) balsamic vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) coarsely cracked black pepper (use freshly ground!)

1. Sanitize 5 pint jars (or 10 half-pint). This recipe said it would produce 8 cups, but it produced 10 for me. Best to be prepared! Also, put 2 small plates in the freezer (to test the jell)

2. In a large pot, mash your strawberries. You can use a potato masher or, if you don't have one like me, use the bottom of a jar.

3. Mix the pectin with 1/4 c of the sugar; stir into the berries. Bring berries to full rolling boil over high. Stir constantly w/ wooden spoon. Add remaining sugar and boil hard for 1 minute.

4. Remove plate from freezer & put 1 tsp of jam on it. Return to freezer & wait 2 minutes. If, when you push the edge of the jam, it wrinkles & makes a little path, your jam will set. If it doesn't, cook the mixture a bit longer & try again.

5. Remove from heat. Skim off foam with metal spoon. Stir in balsamic vinegar and pepper.

6. Fill your sanitized jars with the hot jam, leaving head room. Remove air bubbles by running a chopstick around the edges of the jars and wipe the rim clean. Cover with sanitized lids and tighten the screw lid finger-tight. Put into boiling water and boil for 10 minutes.

7. Remove & let cool. You should hear some popping sounds if your jars seal. When cooled, you can test the seal; you should not be able to lift the lids off the jars.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Update: Garden Planted!

Well, most of it. The soaker hose still needs to be placed into it for when the rain barrel runs out and the rain stops.

Why does planting always take longer than I anticipate? I mean, I figure, I've got a plan and my plants are all ready but it take hours. Maybe part of it is that something always comes up. This year, it was netting the ground cherries right off the bat so my laziness wouldn't result in the birds getting all the fruit. This turned into my husband fashioning a support structure for bird netting out of old tiki torches and bamboo from our neighbor that fell into our yard after a snow storm this winter. As a bonus, this will also protect our blueberry bushes (more on that later...)

Overall, though, construction has taken its toll on the garden. Clay was shoveled into the bed, strawberries were smothered, and random debris was thrown into the beds. My garden plan taking aesthetics into account was scrapped when one of my beds became inaccessible.

I'll post photos tomorrow. It's dark now & the pregnant lady is tired from all the bending, stooping and reaching...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Postcard: Longwood Gardens (and Terrain at Styer's)

This past weekend, my husband planned a lovely garden-filled Sunday for me. We drove over to Pennsylvania to visit Longwood Gardens and the infamous nursery from the makers of Anthropologie, Terrain at Styer's.

First, Longwood Gardens. This former home of Pierre du Pont (yes, that DuPont) has just magnificent grounds. As in, it is completely worth the 2.5 hour drive from DC and $16pp admission. This place is *huge*; be sure to wear comfortable shoes! It has both inside and outside gardens making it even worth a visit if the weather outside is a bit frightful. I was tired (and the gardens were closing) before we could see it all (after 2 hours of wandering). Here is some of what you can expect to see:

Topiary garden

Main room of conservatory. Completely stunning. Although, those astilibes must have been forced; they aren't due to bloom until fall!

The start of a vegetable garden. I hope to come back in a month to see it planted!

Have you ever seen a DOUBLE snap dragon? Now you have!

Some things to note about Longwood, though. There are picnic areas outside of the gardens & no outside food allowed inside. Inside the gardens there are 2 restaurants that have Disney prices (as in, $2.75 for a bottle of water). Thus, I would recommend bringing your own refillable bottle (water fountains are scattered around) and either eating a hearty lunch or brunch via picnic or other restaurant before entering.

Also? There were a gazillion kids there and they seemed to be having a fabulous time. Besides large lawn areas where kids can work off some pent-up energy from the long drive, there were several exhibits (children's garden with water feature, maze to understand the role of bees, "Scent Seekers" as part of the fragrance exhibit, etc.) to encourage kids to learn and enjoy the plants. So, if you have little kids, I would recommend bringing them along. Non-plant loving teens might be bored out of their minds, though.

We also stopped by Terrain at Styer's. I have an unfailing love of Anthropologie, despite their clothes looking absolutely ridiculous on me. So, when I found out there was an Anthropologie-esque nursery, I knew I wanted to go. But at 2.5 hours away, it was a bit of a hard sell. However, coupling in nearby Longwood made a visit make sense.

Overall, I loved the containers, garden furniture and terrarium equipment they had there. The selection of cloches (not the super heavy, antique ones but still nice & hard to find 'round these parts). Unfortunately, everything was crazy expensive. As in, large fiberglass pots were $250. Granted, they were the most attractive, modern fiberglass pots I've ever seen. Their plant selection was sufficient and good quality, but I think local nurseries here have more variety for lower prices (except for a purple-flowering Pieris japonica...that was unusual).

I definitely see myself going back to Longwood and, since Terrain is on the way, I'll probably go back there too. There were also lots of antique shops that look interesting...maybe another road trip in June?!?

Friday, May 7, 2010

Recipe: Deconstructed Arugula Pesto Pasta with Chicken

Most delicious things are either accidents or acts of necessity, aren't they? I mean, I've heard that both Chicago deep-dish pizza and fried raviolis were mistakes. The lore behind nachos is that 2 women showed up after the kitchen was closed and the chef melted some cheese over leftover tortillas for them. The rest, as they say, is history!

This recipe started in much the same way. Well, if you can consider it a recipe; it's a lot of "throw in however much you have on hand." This is how it came about.

Once upon a time, my brother-in-law graduated from college and my husband's (very large) family attended it. Eventually, it was evening, we were all hungry and no one had thought to make a reservation (and in a small town on graduation night with a large party, a restaurant meal was out of the question). For some reason, pizza delivery was veto'd. Someone suggested we all eat at his apartment. Lovely idea! That way we could chat and linger as long as we wanted! Except, being a college male, he had exactly 2 pans: one small frying pan and one stock pot.

Pasta seemed like a quick, easy, and cheap way to feed a crowd (I think there were about 15 of us total). Except my father-in-law doesn't like tomato sauce. And my sister-in-law is lactose intolerant.

Enter this dish. No tomato sauce, the parm is on the side and you can cook the whole thing in one pot. Recently, I realized that it's basically all the ingredients of my arugula pesto, just kept separate. The husband and I tend to make this often when arugula (or even baby spinach) is in season since it's so easy and healthy.

2 lbs pasta (this is for a crowd!)
2 c chicken stock
1 whole rotisserie chicken, shredded (or leftover grilled chicken chopped or poached chicken shredded)
6 oz arugula
4 Tbsp diced sun-dried tomatoes (optional)
1/2 c pine nuts, toasted
Salt & pepper

1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain & set aside.
2. In pot used to cook pasta, put in stock & warm up. Add chicken if using cold leftovers as well.
3. When stock/chicken are warmed through, turn off heat and add arugula, sun-dried tomatoes and pine nuts (and chicken if not already added). Season liberally with salt & pepper. Top with Parm.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Harvest Update: Arugula

Sometimes flowers aren't good things. Namely, any kind of flower bud on your lettuces, spinach or arugula. This is a sign of bolting, which lettuces tend to do when it gets hot out (and it's hot here. Did I mention I don't have AC right now? Fun times in the Radish Household...), and just means they will start to taste bitter. Still edible, but bitter. Thus, when I spied a few buds forming, I knew their time was limited and harvesting needed to happen. Here's the result:

A solid 12.75 oz (I zero'd out the weight of the bowl) of crunchy, peppery goodness. That would cost me about $4 at the Farmer's Market (usually arugula is about $5/lb). Since my seeds were probably less than $2 and this is my second harvest, I'd say arugula wins a "Plant This & It Will Actually Save You Money" award. Especially because I just threw some seeds in a pot & watered them a bit. Easy peasy & something any apartment/condo dweller with a patio or balcony and a bit of light can do.

What am I going to do with this bounty? A deconstructed arugula pesto over pasta with chicken for about half of it for tonight. The other half I'm not so sure about. I'm thinking maybe adding to sandwiches or maybe an omelet for the weekend. I have good luck with keeping all manner of leafy greens good for several days in the salad spinner in the fridge.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Seed Starting Update

It's that time folks: Hardening off time!

I hear that by the end of next week my garden should be no longer a construction zone and my plant babies can be put snuggly in their raised beds. This year, I didn't have a freak aphid infestation like last year. Whew! However, my sweet peppers failed to germinate. They were new seed so I think I did something wrong. Like let them dry out. In fact, remembering to water has been my biggest issue with my indoor seeds this year. I always think that I watered them yesterday until I pass by and see them sulking. If they were teenagers, I'm sure they'd slam the door at me.

In fact, in the photo above, you may notice some sulking tomatoes and basil. Yep, I waited too many days between watering! Again. I'm sure they'll pop back with a bit of love and actual sunshine. Oh, and water.

Despite my neglectfulness, the baby plants are looking pretty good. In fact, I've got flowers on all my squash (have been for weeks), one of my ground cherries and one of my tomatoes.

I'm really looking forward to summer!