Tomayto Tomahto

It has begun…

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One days harvest.  And then two days later I came back in with this…

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And in another two days that basket will be full again.  And in another couple of days…you get the idea. I think some salsa making is about to ensue.  I am still dreaming about that salsa I made two years ago.  Yes it is weird to think about a salsa for that period of time.

So why so many tomatoes? 

I would like to say it is my excellent watering, fertilizing and weeding skills.

But that would be a lie.  In interest of full disclosure here is what the garden/weed patch looks like right now.

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Good thing tomatoes are red otherwise I would never find them in there. It is a mess.  And we have not had rain in weeks (hence the hose and fried grass).  Oh and it is has been over 100 degrees for a very long time. And it will continue to be for a very long time.

So maybe it is the heat.  Or my sporadic watering.  Or my non fertilization. Or the fact that our winter was so mild that three tomato plants came back from last year. Or the square foot gardening soil mix we added this year. Or the Bee Balm.

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This happens to be planted right next to the garden (you can see the dried remnants of the blooms in the weed garden pic above) .  And bees love it.  Especially bumble bees.  And I am thinking that when they are enjoying the pretty pink flowers, they could be moseying on over to the boring yellow tomato flowers and helping me out. And no stings yet.

That is just my idea though…it could be totally false.  I am just going to enjoy all of my tomatoes and pretend like I knew what I was doing when I planted it there.  Anyone want some salsa?

Spring Garden Clean Up

Our garden sucked last year.

My normal “red x’s on the calendar counting down until the last frost” self gave way to well…being busy and pregnant. 

That led to weeds.  A while lot of weeds and pretty much no vegetables.  Because that would require things like watering.  And actually going out to pick them when they are ripe.

I would go on kicks where I would try to get things back on track, but it was just too overwhelming.  And let’s be honest, no one wants to see a 8 month pregnant woman weeding in the middle of summer.

And that whole bending over thing proved to be problematic.

So this year is a do over, and with the gorgeous weather we decided like there was no time like the present.

Out came 11 bags of weeds, dead plants and miscellaneous crap that had been sitting there all winter.square foot gardening

Our raspberries got some fungal disease last year that in my expert plant google knowledge, was not treatable so they had to be dug up as well.  Which was sad, but they took up a lot of room so I am trying to look on the bright side of having a lot more space.

This year we are trying the popular square foot gardening method.  It sounds easy and I am especially loving the “no weeding” part.  Obviously.

In the book, he is adamant that you make grids.  I thought this was a little extreme and almost did not do it.  Or should I say almost did not ask Derek to do it.

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But after he made the grids, I can see why it is important.  I already see how much more stuff I can squeeze in.  We have had great results in the past (other than last year) and I am hoping to add to that.

Now we have 72 squares all ready to grow some goodies.

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Seeds  have arrived and will be planted this week.  Well at least the lettuce, radishes, potatoes and asparagus.  

The others will have to wait until we get a little closer to that last frost date. Since I am back to caring about that again.

So let’s hear all the awesomeness of square foot gardening.  Any other newbies like me? I am in my spring optimistic no weeds state of mind right now.

Lessons from the Garden

So I have been a bad blogger….again.  I am not going to bore everyone with details but May was probably the most stressful month for us in a long time.  Some of the stress was positive like seeing friends and family many times as a result of great baby showers.  And some of it not so positive.  But it all worked out in the end and we are ready for June and bringing the blog back to life as I have so many things to share.  Note to baby: you better stay put the next five weeks because I have a lot to catch up on.  Got it? Good.

The blog was not the only thing that was neglected….my garden was looking very…..well overgrown and unkempt.  And not planted.

I am normally the person that people are looking at funny because I am trying to buy plants before the last frost date.  And I am feeding and weeding and planting and giving all the plants tender loving care on a nightly basis.

This year I did not even step outside to look at the plants that were coming back until the end of May.  Major garden guilt.   Another thing I was sucking at this spring to add to the list.

When I finally got the nerve to wade through the weeds to see what I was working with however I was pleasantly surprised.  Here is my advanced visual representation of the state of the garden.  Green =weeds.  Very high and thick weeds.

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We had strawberries…without me doing anything.

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And roses with no pruning or feeding…

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And the beginnings of grapes and raspberries…

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A good lesson about things surviving in spite of you and a lack of control is sometimes a good thing. 

Another lesson in giving up control was that Derek planted the vegetable garden this year…while I was not home.  Gardening is not his thing at all and we agreed to scale it back this year with the upcoming arrival of the baby.  And I knew I needed his help lifting and tilling. But he surprised me with this….

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For a before picture, please refer to above.

Did he pick all the plants I would of?  No.  Or put them in the location determined by seasonally rotating varieties? No.  But it was weeded and composted and planted.  And done. And I learned another lesson about giving up control and things turning out OK. 

On a semi-related note of not doing things when I planned, I wanted to update you on my painted outdoor pots.  When I first posted the tutorial last year, someone wondered how they would last.

I had planned on moving them into the garage for the winter.  Really. But then the whole morning sickness thing happened and they sat outside all winter and I did nothing (see the theme of the post?) to prep them.

I think they held up incredibly well (the specks on the bottom are dirt).

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However in the interest of full disclosure we did have one crack/chip that I noticed.

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So if you are thinking or painting pots but are hesitant on their wear….don’t worry about it and you can even do nothing like me!

Has your garden taught any needed lessons this year?

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Preserved Peppers

I have mentioned that no matter how many tacos we make, we cannot possibly use all the Anaheim and Jalapeño peppers that our two plants were producing.

I used this picture to illustrate my point…

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And put all those peppers in the fridge to wait until the next batch was ready and figure out how to preserve all of them.

Well….

I think we won’t be planting these types of peppers next year.  Because we will have enough in the freezer to kick out the ice cream and popsicles.

This was just the second batch…pepper preserving

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pepper preserving

Since I don’t have a pressure cooker to can them….freezing was my main option.

I used a couple of approaches.

First the easy way….wash them , dry them and stick in a marked plastic bag before throwing it in the freezer.

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Rocket science. 

But I have to admit this was my favorite way.

The most time intensive method included de-seeding and slicing them up before putting them into the cuisinart.  Then chop them into itty bitty bits.

And spread into an ice cube tray.

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After a day in the freezer these cute pepper cubes popped right out.

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In my mind, I will use my pepper cubes more frequently in recipes and stir fry's because all the work is already done.  At least that is what I was trying to convince myself of after chopping and deseeding for an hour.

And if I am being totally honest the bag of whole peppers going into the freezer got more friends in there as the chopping time marched on.

But the important thing is, they are all safely tucked in the freezer for our enjoyment…for a long time.

Actually the most important thing is that you wear gloves while you are chopping jalapeños.  I did.  And even then some of the hotness snuck in and the skin next to my fingernails was burning for a week.   Which was really difficult when I wanted to wear contacts. 

A random tip?  Know how you are supposed to drink milk when your mouth is on fire?  Well my fingers were burning so bad that a stuck them in  a bowl  of milk.  And it worked.  Not long term, but it provided relief for an hour or so before I dinked them again.

So be careful with the gloves.  Because that is a little weird to do when you are at work. 

Not that I know.

Round Two

Our garden needed a little pick up.  The tomatoes were pretty much done and looking sick at that.  And weeds were starting to creep in.  But I finally did break down and added chicken wire on one bed to keep the bunnies from eating everything.

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And now that fall is approaching, cool season crops can be reintroduced.  I had really good intentions of a) having a second crop to go in the garden this year and not just call it quits after the heat of summer passed b)start the second crop from seed.

Well I was successful on one and a half counts.

I started seed for lettuce and snap peas in pots on the deck.  And they looked great for a while.  But then the wind knocked down the pot with lettuce.  And the bunnies got the peas.

So we bought the second round at the store.

And now lettuce, onions are starting again.

Garden '10 round 2

Garden '10 round 2

The bed looks so much cleaner and the peppers are still thriving on the end.

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Yeah about the peppers…..Mexican night every night this week.

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Zesty Salsa

One of my garden resolutions this year was to have a better preservation plan so when we have piles of perishable produce (say that 5 times fast) that it would not go to waste.

So when the tomato plant started producing, I was ready with some salsa making activities.  Kim at Newly Woodwards almost convinced to start with pizza sauce with pictures of her canning yumminess, but since I also had tons of peppers, we decided salsa was the best bet.

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I went to the library and checked out some great canning books.  I find my salsa recipe in this one.

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Actually it had tons a great recipes (salsa and otherwise) and I picked out Zesty Salsa to start with.  No particular reason besides it sounded good and honestly it was the one that utilized the most of the types of pepper we had in the garden.

Here what went into it-

10 cups chopped cored peeled tomatoes

5 cups chopped seeded bell peppers

5 cups chopped onions

2 1/2 cups chopped seeded chili peppers (we used jalapeno)

1 1/4 cups cidar vinegar

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Everything came from our garden except garlic, cidar vinegar, and cilantro that met an early end this year.

For the first round of salsa, the tomatoes were just beginning to ripen so I made a half batch which yielded 5 pint jars. IMG_2678

Well this picture shows 4 and a half but that was just because it was so good that we had to sample some.  Trust me there were five.

And being lazy I decided not to can them and just stick them in the freezer.  I had bought freezer safe glass jars and I figured that we could eat it by the time 6 months had passed.

Well  it was amazing, because three days later only two jars remained in the freezer.  But before you think we are total salsa pigs, let me tell you that I did give a jar to our neighbors.

Luckily we had a lot more tomatoes (and a random cantaloupe but ignore that part)….

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And plenty more peppers so we made a second full batch this time.  And since Derek was helping the jalapeno has a bit more kick. 

So we now have 9 pint jars in the freezer and giant tupperware of yumminess in the fridge.  Hopefully that will last much longer this time, because the next round of tomatoes is destined for pizza sauce.  But just writing this post has me crazing some more and heading to the fridge so that might still be up in the air……

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August=February?

It is that time of season where summer is starting to lose it’s charm in our neck of the woods.  It is hot.  And sticky.  And dry.  And no amount of watering keeps the plants from wilting and or the grass from turning brown. 

So I set my alarm early this weekend to get out in the garden before it was sweltering and the I admit I was a little grumbly about it.  Because I was sick of watering and weeding and feeding and fighting pests on the tomatoes and black spot on the roses.  So the entire time I was staking up the raspberries (which are being ravaged by some unknown disease or insect that no amount of googling has led me to a conclusion)  I was composing an open letter to August because my feelings for it were much like February.   I had all the details in my head. 

But then I saw this. 

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And after I wiped the condensation off my lens from the humidity I got to enjoy these.

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And suddenly my grumpy letter to August disappeared because how could February compete with fresh raspberries?

And peppers….

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And tomatoes…

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And if Iwas still not convinced just remember the having to dig out the door…..IMG_0097

Yep August has nothing on February.  Bring on the heat!

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Pretty in Pink- Chive Flower Vinegar

In the spring we, had a slight problem with overgrown chives.

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The rest of the garden had just been planted and they were spilling everywhere.  The purple flowers were pretty and I thought about bringing some inside as cut flowers….but the distinct onion scent wasn’t what I was going for.   So what to do with all of them because they obviously needed to be harvested and there was no way we were going to way that many baked potatoes??  Hmmmmm…

After some googling I learned that you can make Chive Flower Vinegar.  Different sites had slightly different procedures so I sort of mixed it all together and came up with this,

First, I harvested all the pretty flowers.  That basket was totally full.

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Then I washed them thoroughly and put them through the salad spinner to get all the excess water off.

Next, I put them in some glass containers with lids and then added boiling white vinegar over them.

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They sat in a sunny window for a week.   It was the perfect kitchen table centerpiece.

Then I strained out the flowers that were looking a little less purple.

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And was left with pretty pink vinegar with an onion scent.

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I bottled it in pretty jars and put it in the dark kitchen cabinet for another week

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So what does it taste like?  On a mixed green salad there is a slight hint of onion.  I think next time I will leave more of the stems  on and possibly refresh the flowers with new ones to increase the flavor.  But i love the color and it could make a great gift or look  fun on a table next to a salad when you are entertaining.  And best of all it is quick, easy, and uses parts of plants that were going to be composted.

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Loving the Mint

Hope everyone had a happy and relaxing Fourth of July and you are enjoying your long holiday weekend.  We have been enjoying mojitos and making good use of mint plant.  This drink is worth adding a mint plant to your garden.  It is easy to grow, but it can be invasive so you may want to think about using a pot to contain it. 
My favorite mojito recipe involves about 12 fresh mint leaves, 1/2 a lime, a shot of rum, agave nectar, ice and club soda.  Agave nectar is my new secret ingredient in the drink.  The recipes I found use simple syrup or sugar for added sweetness.  But sugar in a cold drink is gritty and frankly I was always too lazy to make simple syrup even though it is easy.  Obviously I am very lazy.  We had bough agave nectar because supposedly it is better for you than sugar and we wanted to try it out.  It worked perfectly and it keeps a whole lot longer than simple syrup.  Glad I was able to solve this pressing problem.

Which is a good thing because we still have half a summer (and a mint plant) left.....

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Good….Bad….Good….Random

Good-

Overall things are going very well in the garden.  Other that the *^#@ rabbits that keep eating everything.  But I told myself that I need to get over that, so moving on.  One of the things that has taken off the most is our first tomato plant…IMG_1181

Yep the middle half of an entire bed is a single tomato plant that has already taken over two cages.   Good thing the rabbits ate all of the peas because there was no room for them anyway.  I can’t wait to harvest the tomatoes and start making my salsa.

Bad-

Which brings me to the bad news about the next salsa ingredient…..the cilantro is not looking so hot.IMG_1176

Hmmmmm….   We thought if we staked it up that it would help with more delicious leaves and less of this-

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Not so much.   Then I thought maybe cilantro was supposed to look like this at this time of year.  But I read Kim’s post over the NewlyWoodwards and that burst that bubble.

So now I am thinking to cut my losses and replant.  Unless the blogworld had any brilliant ideas to salvage this.

Good-

In case you are interested, the how-to page has finally been updated.  I struggled getting all the columns to line up correctly and therefore have not been adding to it and worrying about it “later”.  So I finally did away with the columns to make it more user friendly. And I promise to keep it updated this time.

Random-

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Jack is digging the new sectional and this is his nightly position.  The pups are not allowed on furniture in the house, but since the outdoor furniture gets rained on a regular basis, we decided to let them cuddle on the cushions if we invited them.  Jack thinks this is a good choice on our part.

And I am thinking that the outdoor space will be ready for the big reveal by the end of the week so stay tuned!

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Summer Laziness aka I Hate Watering

Summer is officially in full swing.  Bringing with it lazy afternoons, lemonade, relaxation.  And a brand new air conditioner that stopped working, multiple service visits, four nights sleeping the basement, an electrician and a new hole in the basement ceiling.  But that is a story for another day.  This is a happy summer post.

Anyway one of the things I love about summer is enjoying the garden and landscaping on maintenance mode and not planting/tons of work mode.

Ahhhh….pretty flowers and delicious vegetables.   But for the past couple of years I have struggled with keeping all the potted plants hydrated.  Every afternoon when I come home they look wilted.  And so I then had to water them everyday.  This gets really old and honestly makes me wish for a hard freeze in the beginning of September.

If was really dedicated I could install a drip irrigation system for all the plants.  But that takes too much work and planning. Next idea please.

Mulch helps with water conservation….but- while perfect for all the landscaping,  a little boring for the pots.  Being on the deck they needed some pizzazz.  I thought about polished river rock you can buy in the mesh bags in the craft stores. But for a couple bucks for a small bag, it could get expensive. 

So we bought two bags of marble chips at Home Depot.  Under $7 total and I think they bring a modern aspect to all the potted plants while conserving water.  Observe-

Before:

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After:

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When we bought the rock, it was covered in dust and grit.  So I rinsed it in a shallow pot with drainage holes like I was panning for gold.  The rock looked so much better with a bath, and then I set it on the top of all the dirt.  Helpful hint- if you are going to work with landscape rock, wear gloves.  I did not and it really scratched up my natural nails.

Since adding the layer of rock, the soil has not been completely parched on a daily basis and I have been able to reduce my watering.  It was the a trifecta project of cheap, easy and quick but hopefully will have a positive impact on my plants and my sanity.  Unless someone wants to install drip irrigation on the deck.  Any takers?

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Berry Time

I have been patiently waiting a year and a half for the raspberries to do something other than hide the ugly electrical box in the backyard…. and this morning they made it worth every single day.

Raspberries first harvest

Not knowing anything about raspberry bushes I had no idea when they were ready to pick.  Do they start to fall off, or do you have to cut the thorny stems with clippers?  I had no idea and in the back corner of the yard I was without a google-enabled device to answer this pressing question.  So I took the plunge and pulled one off.

Raspberries first harvest

It felt like a raspberry should and I had been doing the organic thing with the bushes this year so I poped it in my mouth.

Wow.

I like raspberries from the grocery store and buy them whenever they are on sale, but this berry blew all of those out of the water.  It was so sweet. 

So I immediately got a basket to collect all the berries in and proceeded to eat one and then put one in the basket.  And then eat another two and then put one in the basket.

Here is what made it back to the sink.  Where they were promptly eaten before their flavor had to spoiled with refrigeration.

Raspberries first harvest

I planted two different varieties of raspberries-the classic pink/red color and another variety that ripens to a peach color. 

Looking at the bush, I should be getting larger and larger harvests because there are so many on there that are not ripe yet.  So we will be trying to consume them as fast as we can as well as freeze the extras for future smoothie making.

If you are a beginner garden like me and thought about trying raspberries, I would say go for it .  The first year of no fruit stinks, but my four plants have taken off this year and other than having the painful task of tying the thorny branches to a trellis, I have pretty much left them alone.  They have been disease and pest free with no intervention and I am not nearly as diligent in watering them as I am the other veggies.  They spread and need full sun, so if you have those criteria I would plant some and start counting the days until your first berry crop.  They fruit on two year old canes, so after this years harvest is complete, I will cut back all those branches and let the new canes grow so that they are ready for fruit next year.

Unfortunately, there was one nuisance that I could foresee ruining my happy berry day. Raspberries first harvest

And I knew that as mad I have been at the rabbits for killing all the spinach and eating countless other plants, if birds got all the berries that I had waited two years for,….well I just might explode.

So now the berry bushes now look like this. 

Raspberries first harvest
Hopefully the birds and I can remain friends.  While I am enjoying every single berry.
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War Has Officially Been Declared

Rabbits are no longer welcome in our yard.

It rained a lot last week.  Like a cold week of April rain in May.  It was weird but it was a good excuse to get things done inside and deal with the stress of the end of the school year.

But one afternoon I got home from work and noticed all the pink roses were laying on the ground at the back of the yard.  The roses that were among the plants that I had spent an entire weekend preparing a bed for and planting.

“Wow it must have rained really hard last night to knock all those petals off of the roses”

Then I walked out there and saw this.  I guess the stem right under the flower were the tastiest.

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And it made me very angry.  As in hoping the rabbits were bleeding internally from the thorns.  If we did not have a solid six foot fence around our yard, I would have thought that we had a deer problem.

Obviously with the rain, my number one rabbit repelling/killing team was not spending a lot of time outside.  Failures.

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When it finally stopped raining I went out to spray Liquid Fence to deter them.  And I found even more damage.  Which made me angrier.

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But, I have had success with this product in the past.   You have to reapply it every time it rains, which gets really old.  And it smells like a mixture of rotten eggs, puke, and toilets.  Two reasons why it is not a product that I look forward to using.

I was serious though so it applied it over all non-edible plats while muttering things like “die rabbits die.”  And even though the direction of the wind kept changing, dousing me in eau de rotten eggs that took two showers to get rid of, I was satisfied that I had foiled the mangy rabbits.  Victory!

The next day I walked over to the vegetable beds and witnessed this.

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I refuse to spray liquid fence on the spinach because even if it was suitable for human consumption, I really don’t want my salad smelling or tasting like a toilet.  So I spayed some on the dirt in between the rows of spinach in the hopes that it may work.  And I laid some chives from my previously overgrown plant around it randomly.  Because in my mind, rabbits don’t like the smell of onions.  Probably not true, but in my agitation I was not thinking that straight.  And it sounded good.

According to my scientific google search, cayenne pepper and human hair also are good repellents.  But call me crazy, I again hesitate to put that all over food I hope to eat.

Sigh. So I think we are going to have to make a chicken wire fence around the raised beds to keep them out.  As well as to keep out one of the rabbit repellers who has shown a recent affinity for strawberries fresh from the plant.

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Fence….Ugly? Yes….but probably will be necessary. 

Because I will win this war one way or another.

I hope.

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And So It Begins (Edible Edition)

I just may have the garden planted.  Took awhile and I still may add a couple of things here and there, but overall it is ready for the “before” picture.

Last year was a lot more labor intensive with building the raised beds and planting everything from scratch.  So compared to that fun, this year was pretty easy.  And I even had some of my plants come back.  And I strategically moved the others around to help combat disease and bugs.

I also stuck pretty closely to the original plan.  Except there was no room for cantaloupe and asparagus…and Derek threw another random pepper in the cart.

So I will stop babbling and share the beginning of the 2010 gardening season-

Bed #1: Raspberries

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Yeah this is the “before” picture.  They have really taken off and I am so excited that I will be able to get fruit of them this year (and that they are hiding ugly the electrical box per my plan).  Tying them up to the trellis was a long and thorny morning so if the birds get to the berries first I will be very peeved.

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Bed #2- jalapeño, other random pepper, beans, red onion, yellow onion, spinach, and leaf lettuce.

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I planted the beans from seed and they are just starting to sprout-IMG_0961

 

And the Bed #3- strawberries, tomato, bell pepper, more beans, green onion and snap peas

Let’s just say the strawberries cam back with a vengeance-IMG_0967

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As did the green onion.  The flowers look pretty….IMG_0964

But it needs some serious dividing as it is taking over other plants.  Supposedly the best time to so this is after flowering and I am counting the days.IMG_0966

Speaking of flowering edibles…who knew that sage could be so pretty?  Good thing looks good because I have no idea how to cook with it.IMG_0956

All the other herbs (cilantro, lavender, oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and mint) are happily in their pots on the patio.   But already are so much larger than when I planted them.

We also added a grape trellis to the side of the patio….I am a little nervous because from what I read the pruning protocol is very specific to get fruit.   So this falls in the “experimental” section.  Hence the tags still on the plants….once I take them off I am committed in my mind.  I know….weird.  So they just might be on there all summer.

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And to go with the beginnings of the garden, I am happy to report that we have already eaten a small portion of this years bounty.  It rained  a l l  weekend here, but I sloshed through the yard to get this to add to dinner (and dessert).  Note to self-backyard drainage is probably another upcoming expensive yet unglamorous project.

First garden harvest 2010

First garden harvest 2010

First garden harvest 2010

I am so excited to start the almost daily trips out there to add to our meals.  And I can’t wait to see the “after” pictures.

Stay tuned for the spring pictures of the rest of the landscaping….I am happy to report that the perennial beds are looking a lot more full than last year.  Not that would take much.

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Herbs on the Move

Know what my favorite thing about winter is?  How much it makes me appreciate spring. 

Because who can appreciate the absolutely gorgeous weather we have been having without going through the cold and incredibly long winter?

That is what I tell myself at least during the winter.  Sometimes it actually works.

Since spring is in the air, gardening is on my mind.  We are still in the iffy part of planting in good ole Zone 5 because we have been known to still have a random freeze this late.  But being the rebel I am, I decided that I could start planting my pots last week.  I know I am living on the wild side, but I figure that in the unlikely event we have a freeze, I can always pull them inside at night.

Since I am freeing up garden real estate this year, I decided all the the herbs were going to planted in pots on the deck.  There are two added bonuses to this.  First, most of them smell heavenly which brings a nice ambience to the deck space.  Also, all the flowers I planted in pots last year did not do very well so hopefully the herbs will succeed  much better.  And flowers can start to add up in terms of $$$.  So by replacing most of them with herbs I would be buying anyway, we are saving some money.

But then I stumbled onto a problem- pretty pots are expensive, especially when I plan on planting tons of herbs and some random flowers. 

I did have a stack of old terra cotta ones  in the garage and they are inexpensive for new ones as well…..but orange rust does not mesh with the color scheme of the outdoor decor I am going for. 

So I turned to my favorite thing for sprucing something up…..I bet you can guess what that is…..

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But terra cotta is not a material that you can just slap some paint onto and call it good.  It took some prep work and specific materials.  So of course I am sharing the how-to so that you can also score some cheap and springy pots.

The How -To

1. First, gather all your posts and scrub them with soap and water.  I used a combination of new and old pots and definitely spent a lot more time scrubbing the mineral deposits and grime off of the old ones.

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2. Let them dry for at least 24 hours.  Learn from my mistakes and do not set them on a cement garage floor if there is any moisture at all in the ground.  The terra cotta will suck it right up and they will never dry.  Which is not fun to discover when you are ready to start painting them.

3. Spray with a water proofer.   Terra Cotta is porous and when holding plants will suck all the moisture in from the dirt into the clay.  Which is bad news for your paint if you are expecting it to stick.  There are a lot of water proofers out there and some people suggest painting them with oil-based polyurethane to do the trick.  But we had cans of Thompsons spray water sealer laying around from some past project that I now have no memory of.  The terra cotta absorbed it right away and did not appear any different after spraying.  Spray every surface with this stuff- both inside and outside.  We went though a can and a half for all the pots pictured after applying one heavy coat.

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4. Paint with Patio Paint in your desired color on both the outside and the inside.  All terra cotta surfaces must be covered so that no water permeates any part and causes your paint to peel.  This includes the inside of the water hole.  I found my patio paint at a local craft store next to the terra cotta pots and not next to the acrylic paint which caused me a little bit of confusion.

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I covered everything with two coats of paint using a foam brush.  The yellow and the white did not cover as well, so I added an extra coat.  This paint dries really fast so the process did no ttake very long.   I also used the green on the lower inside part of most of the pots because I knew you would not see it but it covered very well.  And I had a big bottle of it.

5.  Let dry for at least 48 hours per the paint’s instructions.

6.  Fill with plants!

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We put a coffee filter at the bottom the pots so that water could seep through but the dirt would stay put.

7. Color coordinate where you want particular herbs and enjoy!

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Budget Breakdown:

$37 for pots (I already owned some)

$16 for paint

$0 for water sealer (already owned)

=$53 total…..which I think is great for 11 pots and some of them being large ones at that.

And I love what the color brings to the deck….I am so excited about how it is coming together.   Now I just need to figure out what I can cook with that monstrous sage that came back with a vengeance this year…..

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Garden Report Card

Last year at this time, I was a gardening newbie.  Other than a couple of strawberries in a pot that were rather unsuccessful, I had never grown anything edible.

But I had grand visions and we built three raised beds.  And largely it was a success.  If I can do it with no background knowledge, so can you.

We started with three empty raised beds and a lot of gravel….

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And planted some little sprouts in the them (wow my old camera was pretty crappy)…MOV02216

And by July we had this…DSC02382

Since it is now officially spring and am now a “seasoned” veteran, it is time to  plan for this year’s selections.

Should I have done this earlier?  Yeah probably.  Especially if I was going to start seeds indoors.

And this would be the case if that did not miserably fail at this task last year.  I blame the sunny window that was not sunny enough.

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So this year we are sticking with plants that I buy and direct sowing seeds in the garden.  Once it thaws out I mean.

So here is what I planted last year -

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Strawberries- A  We did not get a lot of fruit last year, but according to my sources that it normal and we should get a lot more this year.   Our lack of fruit also could be a result of a furry friend named Jack hijacking the fruit.  The entire summer, I was cursing the birds thinking they were the culprits.  Until Jack was caught not once, but four times with a perfect red wipe berry in between his paws.  Which he promptly ate as soon as saw him.  So even though this crop will not need to be replanted, a dog deterrent/fence will be in order.

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Radishes- C  They grew very quickly and easily.  But I do not think we will replant this because Derek does not like radishes.  And other than an occasional one on my salad I am not huge on them.  So we decided that the garden real estate will be better served for something else.  But if you are new to gardening, this is a quick and easy crop to start with.

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Red Leaf Lettuce- B  I really learned last year that lettuce is a cold season crop.  Once it it gets too hot, it starts to bolt and then tastes nasty.  So this will definitely be repeated this year but I will not be afraid to harvest some of it early and will replant a second crop for late summer/fall when in cools off.

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White Onions- A  These were easy and we used them a lot.  I started these from an onion set which was easier than seed.  And they stored well.  Will be a repeat this year and I may add some purple onions. 

Chives-B These would get an A except we did not use them as much as I thought I would.  But they are a perennial and are already looking very robust in the snow.  Even if they did not I would be replanting.

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Pole Beans-B  This grew after the bunnies decimated them twice (note to self to install dog and rabbit deterrent).  But the trellis I installed was not tall enough and I waited a little too long to harvest them.  So they were, well, stringy.  But I have learned from my mistakes and they should be spectacular this year.  At least I hope.

Sugar Snap Peas-F  One of the lowest grades in the garden because…well they never grew.  I replanted them twice and really thought that I had been successful.  But my “success” turned out to be giant weeds that I spent the summer fighting and no peas in sight.  But I will not be beaten by these peas and will be triumphant this year.  Hopefully.

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Tomato-A  We bought this plant on a whim and ended up with so.many.tomatoes.  We are not huge tomato people, but the sauce and salsa and brushetta is already being planned for this year.

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Jalapeño- A A random purchase and we ended up with tons of them.  Way too many for our Mexican nights.  So I gave a lot away and made jelly with them.  I was happy how that turned out and  a single plant does not take up too much space, so it is on the shopping list for this year..

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Mint-A  We bought it for the mojitos.  And it did not disappoint.  Enough said.

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Basil- A+ Probably the most used plant in the garden.  So easy to grow and so easy to use.

Parsley-C Looks pretty and was easy to grow but I did not find a whole lot of uses for it.  But it is a perennial so it is back.

Cilantro-F The only other F in the bunch.  I killed it planting it.  But let’s try it again.

Sage- C-See parsley.  Exactly.

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Raspberries- Since they fruit during the second year, I can’t comment on that yet.  But they grew really well and I have high hopes for this summer

Carrots-D Since Derek is allergic to uncooked carrots (i know weird) and I hate cooked carrots these did not used that much.  Not to mention I really struggled with unearthing them.  As in hours digging struggled.  So these will not be repeated.

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Pomegranate- B  I bought a dwarf pomegranate online last year.  And I had to plant it in a pot because it cannot survive the winter outdoors. So it is growing in my kitchen right now.  There is tons of fruit on it but I am a little unsure how big they will grow.  I can’t wait to see what it does this summer, especially now that it is in a bigger and prettier pot.

I am also planning on moving all the herbs out of the raised beds and into pots on the deck.  Why?  First of all I want to free up some space in the beds for some new things. And my hope is that if they are closer to the kitchen that they will be used more often.  And last but not least, the more pots I fill with herbs , the less I will have to fill with flowers.  There will be flowers of course, just not every pot.

So with all the new space what is going in there?

Here is what I am thinking, but I am open to suggestions and to my whims when I am staring at plants and I decide something looks good.

-Cantaloupe-  I love this fruit and they are not cheap at the store.  From what I read they take a lot of room but I am up for the challenge.  Maybe.

-Spinach- This will like lettuce in that we will not be munching on it in July, but we have been trying to eat more of it.

-Grapes-I really want a grape arbor.  Just need to figure out a place for it that will not look dumb.  We will see….

-Red Pepper- We use this a lot in cooking and hopefully it will as easy as the jalapeño

-Potato-  I am considering this but am still unsure.  They are cheap at the store and we really should not be eating them that much.  But I really like them.

-Asparagus-I think I might give this one a whirl because we should be eating more of it and it a perennial

So what do you think?  Anything I need to be adding or subtracting off my list?

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Brrrrr and Basil

It is officially fall. We were this close to having a hard freeze this past weekend. The beginning of October is early for a freeze in our area and I could not believe that when were shopping at an outdoor mall that I wished I had a scarf.....and maybe a hat.

I finally could run again this weekend now that I am eight weeks past the stress fracture. Of course it is my luck that my first running morning it was 33 degrees. Oh well, at least I could start again. And by start again I mean from the beginning since I have not run for 8 weeks and I felt every step....and are still feeling it today every time I walk up the stairs.

Another positive weather related note-we are not going to see the sun for at least a week so I will spending a lot of time indoors and wishing it was May. Sigh.....

But enough with the complaining, I do love fall (but usually I am a bigger fan of the period of the mid fifties and not the mid thirties) and since I am not spending all my time outside working in the garden I am newly re-energized when it comes to house projects. I think I am even ready to make some goals with...gasp...timelines. Stay tuned...

Since the freeze is right around the corner I set out to preserve as much as the garden as possible. I already did tomatoes, but next was the basil.

And since I had no idea what I was doing, I set it up like a science experiment.

First I started with a lot of basil (since it is an official "experiment" I made sure to use precise terms like "a lot")

Then I washed half of it, tore off the leaves, and put it in the food processor. I then added a swirl of olive oil and chopped away.

Then I portioned out the mixture into "basil cubes" which I hope will be the perfect size to use in recipes all winter.

At this point I came to the first issue. Should I add water to make sure I can get them out of the tray...or would that make it mushy when I defrosted the perfect portion for a recipe?? Decisions decisions. Since I was experimenting I decided to do it both ways and see which worked the best (in my head I could hear my high school science teacher saying "the addition of water is one independent variable while the one with just oil is the other, and the dependent variable blah blah blah....").

But this science experiment was not completed. I also read that you can just stick basil in a bag, push out all the air and shove it in the freezer. That method was a lot faster and less messy than the previous one so I also gave it a try.
So now the beer fridge is filled with pasta sauce, frozen tomatoes, basil cubes and bags of basil. Every time you open it to get a beer, it smells like an Italian kitchen. We will see which independent variable had the best outcome on the dependent variable. Don't worry I will take lots of data (scientific of course) and come back and report. I think I might have just found our future children's first science project .......

Sweet and Spicy

In my quest to preserve as many vegetables as possible I have been searching for recipes, especially for jalapenos....because honestly we can only have Mexican night so many times. Luckily my bowl full of jalapenos was saved by Derek's aunt with this recipe.


Jalapeno Jelly
3/4 cup seeded and ground green peppers
3/4 cup seeded and ground jalapeno chile peppers
6 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
1 (16 oz.) bottle liquid pectin
Green food coloring

Mix green peppers, chiles, sugar and vinegar and bring to a rolling boil. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Add pectin and 4 or 5 drops of food color. Mix well. Strain into hot sterilized jars and seal. Makes 6 half pints.





When I chopped the jalapenos I busted out the gloves to make sure I did not burn my skin.

I was planning on taking canning pictures step by step because it was the first time I attempted it and it was a process.

But I got so crazy between the sterilized jars, straining , and sealing that the camera sat by itself on the counter. When it was all said and done, it looked like a green gel bomb went off in the kitchen. Literally it took two loads in the dishwasher to get everything cleaned up. But that just might be because a) I am always a messy cook and b) I had no idea what I was doing.

Here is the final product-
Twelve total jars from the recipe (2 were already eaten when this pic was snapped:))

And with some cream cheese and crackers....yum.

It turned out to be the perfect mix of sweet and spicy and I cannot wait to give away the little jars to all of our friends!

"Secret" Family Recipe

Conversation at Home Depot last May-

J: Should we put a tomato plant in the garden since we aren't big tomato eaters?
D: Let's just get one and that way we will have just a couple for some salsa

Guess I need to stop fertilizing.......

Last weekend this was our "bounty" with still tons of green tomatoes still on the single plant. So we either needed to find a way to preserve them or set up a road side stand.

Derek's family is Italian and they love to make their own sauce so we had the idea to use the family recipe and all the tomatoes to make some homemade pasta sauce to freeze for nights we don't feel like cooking.

Some background on and Derek and my cooking styles- Derek is not a big recipe follower. A little bit of this, toss in some of that etc. No measuring cups or spoons are needed when Derek is cooking. I, on the other hand, like to follow recipes closely. I like to have them come out the same way every time and have been described by my husband as a "chemist" in the kitchen with all the measuring I do.

OK now that you have background, I bet you can guess how the family recipe was given to us. Yep totally in Derek's style.

J- How much onion should I chop?
D- I dunno....my mom said a lot
J- How much is a lot? Like how many cups? Or even how many onions?
D- Don't know....chop up one more and that looks right.
J- What do you mean it looks right....how do you know that your definition of "a lot" and your moms is the same?
D- Trust me

So we boiled, chopped, smushed, mixed and simmered. The house smelled awesome all day. And I have to admit it tasted awesome too. Which works out well considering this is what our beer fridge freezer now contains-

No more Ragu for us! I would post the recipe but as you can see from above it probably would not do you much good. I am sure there are tons of awesome ones online and overall this was a great way to spend some time on a Sunday preserving food.

But as of tonight here is our counter again-



Maybe salsa next???

A Different Type of Before/After

The vegetable garden is in full swing no thanks to the rabbits. Here it is the first weekend in May, right after it was planted.




And here is it is now. It is amazing how quickly it has grown. I took these same pictures a week or two ago and planned on posting those, but when I looked at them again I realized how different it already looked. So I had to go back outside and snap some more.
Beans, peas, jalapeno, and tomato plants

The Herbs (Basil, Parsley, Mint, Sage, Oregano)

Raspberries and Carrots

The Bounty-


In this pic yo can see the lettuce (the tall purpley stuff) before I had to pull it because it was "bolting" and starting to taste bitter. (Winter is enjoying what we like to call her "hot stone massage."

Enough with the pictures, here is what I have learned from my first vegetable garden.

1. I was not successful starting seeds indoors. They grew no problem but even in a sunny window I not think they got enough light and therefore got incredibly leggy. So even though I put them outside a week to harden them off, once I planted them in the ground they fried. So if I decide to start seed indoors next year I will need better light.

2. I need a plan for preserving food as it matures. We have so much more food than we know what to do with. We are making every jalapeno recipe possible but there are still 5 in our fridge and another 5 on the plant.

3. Eat lettuce early. I knew it was a cool season annual from my reading but I did not realize how quickly it would bolt and then become too bitter to eat. We did get a lot of good salads out of it but I was so worried about it eating it too quickly that a lot of it went to waste. I am also going to maybe find something to shade it next year so it hopefully will bolt later in the season.

4. Add tons of compost even in brand new enriched garden soil. Mid season I had to add a lot more for water retention than for any other reason. The soil on it own was requiring water everyday and was developing giant cracks.

5. Check the garden for ripe fruit and vegetables everyday just to make sure that birds or other animals do not get to them first.

I am sure that by the end of the growing season that I will have a lot more "learning experiences." Considering this is my first vegetable garden, I am very happy how it turned out. And there is nothing better than getting a large portion of your dinner from the backyard.
Awwwww summer.....