Garden Helpers

This week I made up a game called “Lumberjack.”  Max and I pretended we were lumberjacks heading outside to cut down a big tree — a broccoli tree!  He humored me and played along and even ate some of the “tree.”  The game’s effectiveness was weaker than anticipated since Max had no idea what a lumberjack was.  Ginger was unmoved by the whole thing.  She seems to take joy in not eating what I grow.  Really, she barely eats anything.  Pretty frustrating.   She spit out one of our very few strawberries.  Sacrilege.

We had a yummy treat tonight.  Had friends over whom we haven’t spent time with in too long.  Those events always get me motivated to put a little more effort.  For appetizer, I put out our own snap peas and I made green goddess dressing to go with it.  I’ve never made it before but it turned out nicely.  Here’s the recipe:

3/4 cup mayo

3/4 sour cream

handful of parsley

the leaves of a few springs of lemon thyme

1/2 cup of scallions

2 tablespoon of lemon juice

salt & pepper to taste

Combine in the food processor till it looks light green in color.  Serve.

IMG_1522 IMG_1511 IMG_1508 IMG_1504 IMG_1500


State of the Garden April 2013

Note that the pictures are taken at night — which is when I can get a few minutes of peace with the kids down.

Here is the list of what we’re growing right now: Chard, Lettuce, Peas, Garlic, Onions, Broccoli, Tomatoes, Strawberries, Blueberries, Zucchini, Beans, Herbs (thyme, sage, basil, lemon thyme, dill, parsley, oregano, rosemary), Purple bell pepper, Jalapenos.

State of the Garden

This is a low key growing season.  Even though we have more growing space this year, we have scaled back a little in our growing projects.  Part of it is being busy with two kids, part of it just the hussle and bussle of life.  We’ve reached the age (or time of year) where there’s a birthday party every weekend.  So, losing some growing opportunities.  But, I did manage to move my ass and get a few things in the ground.

We are growing snap peas!  Last year we had snow peas when I meant to get snap peas.  We also have several rows of peas.  My hope is that Ginger will be interested in peas by the time they are ripe.  Right now, she doesn’t seem that interested in solids.  Max harvested our first 4-5 snap peas and loved them.  I haven’t been able to get him to eat them before, so this is a big success already.

It’s also fun that we still have tomatoes on our volunteer plant.   I dare you to try to find lettuce and arugula amongst the weeds.

We have a little bit of chard — I was hoping that it would be a more substantive crop.  I feel like I could wipe it out with one meal. 

We have a freezer stocked full of meat, so if we could only get the yard produce to step up, we could simplify our grocery shopping needs.

Meanwhile, I have some serious baby weight to take off.  I’m dedicating myself to a workout plan.  Realistically, I think I need a structured diet plan, but I need to get through a few work hurdles first.

Bean there, Done that

  Here’s my idiot moment of the season:

We grew beans this year.  We had an amazingly large bounty.  We ate them raw, or broiled, or steamed.  We froze some.  We dehydrated some.  When we were sick of looking at them, we let what I thought were a “few” remaining pods hang on and dry on the vine (is it a vine?) so that we could save seeds for next year. 

Except… once we went to pick them, I realized we had a nice hunk of dried beans.  I started thinking that we actually had enough to make a meal of beans.  It never occurred to me that we could have that sort of yield. 

Max and I shelled the beans together and it was so much fun to share that activity with him.

Now, I must admit…. I don’t cook with dried beans.  I didn’t grow up with them.  I tried doing them in the slow cooker earlier this year and the meal was inedible.  No flavor, didn’t cook through.  But I really wanted to do our crop justice, so I was going to try again.

I again went the slow cooker route, but I added more ingredients for flavor.  At the end of the cooking time — still no flavor.  So, I found a recipe for boston baked beans and I mixed up the sauce and cooked it with the beans in the oven for maybe an hour.  I rescued the beans… and they tasted great.  Cooked through, lots of flavor.  Max ate them! I even made use of the leftovers by adding them to a shredded pork soup.

…I promised an idiot moment, didn’t I?   Well, it was probably a good week later that I realized that I totally forgot to save ANY of the beans as seeds for next year.   I guess I’ll have to order it online again and hope that I get the right variety. DOh!

Crop Fatigue

I’m approaching crop fatigue. 

See, you never know how things will turn out with gardening.  As you may recall, I had multiple attempts at growing cucumbers because I really wanted to make good pickles this year.  Well, the seeds didn’t seem to take, so I picked up some transplants.  Eventually, some of the seeds/seedlings that I had given up on came back to life.  Some plants have barely given me anything — we’re talking 1-2 pickles max.  Other plants have given me dozens.  This all amoungs to many jars of pickles. 

The problem is, I think the kind I like the best are the refrigerator pickles — not the kind you leave on a storage shelf for a year.  I didn’t count on that — and I certainly don’t have the fridge space to put up my entire crop (A TON).  The result is a lot of pickle jars being strategically stashed as gifts at various friends’ and family houses.  Likewise with pickled green beans.

The tomato plants have been producing at a steady pace, but I haven’t had such a glut yet here it made sense to make a bunch of sauce and put it up.  So, we’re basically just using them as they become ripe — if we get to them before the bugs do.  Max seems to be sick of tomatoes.  I used to save the grape tomatoes for him so he could pick them straight of the plant.  As he seems to be taking a break for a while, I figure they are fair game for us to eat.

Here’s a tip on a great new recipe I tried this week.  Inspired by the TV show “Cooking for Real.”  Take grape or cherry tomatoes.  Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.  Cook at 375 for 30 minutes or until the skins burst.  It’s like candy!  We served it as a side dish to Salmon.  Next time I may add garlic.  (BTW, Max is a salmon junky — he yells “Oh Boy, Fish!”  when he sees it and it makes me happy)

It occurred to me that we’re only two months away from introducing Ginger to solid foods.  How fun!  Hope she takes to it.

When preserving feels like a crime

I am growing way more food than is possible for a small family to eat at one time.   I did this with the full anticipation that I would be “putting up” some of the food for later in the year when we don’t have these in fresh supply on the Almostima ‘farmette’.  

So often we let food rot because we optimistically think we’ll get around to eating it while it’s still good — but life gets in the way.  I’m determined not to let that happen this year.  I know that a fresh tomato or a fresh cucumber is amazing — but there’s only so much of it I can have in one sitting, and one of my plants just exploded with tomatoes.  I’ve already had salad, salsa and bruscetta a few days in a row, and I know many of these will meet a sad fate if I don’t use them now.  (Keep in mind I have 7 other tomato plants that are still largely green.) 

Cucumbers are a trickier item.  I planted a ton of them because I so enjoyed making (and eating) relish last year and wanted to make a lot more pickles this time around, that I was calculating for a big  so that I could eat both fresh cukes and pickles down the road.  But, the plants are under-performing.  The thing is, I crave pickles more than cucumbers, so I went ahead and prioritized the pickling, hoping that more cukes will come my way as the season progresses.  My parents were a little offended that I used two of the cucumbers they gave me from their plants for relish.  Sorry, but I already ate a half-dozen fresh cukes from their plants, and those hot dogs aren’t gonna dress themselves. 🙂

I love how excited Max gets to go produce picking with me in the yard every day.  How many 2 year olds know the word ‘basil?’  I also love that he will eat way more tomatoes directly from the plant than he will if I just put it on his dinner plate.  I remember once last season he commented that  tomato I gave him was too cold to eat — because he was used to tomatoes that had been warmed by the sun on the plant.

Here’s what I’m enjoying preserving:

  • Pickling green beans — love them on their own as  a snack or on sandwiches in place of regular pickles.  Would also be good in a bloody mary, but haven’t actually tried that yet.
  • dehydrating green beans (will put in soups in the winter)
  • dehydrating tomatoes – trying this tonight for the first time.
  • the aforementioned relish (YUM!)
  • fermented israeli-style pickles.  (don’t have a batch ready yet, but will post more on that in a few days/week when I can comment on whether it worked)
  • plum bbq sauce
  • Haven’t done too much jamming lately – but that’s always fun
  • Still to come: tomato sauce!

 Here’s the thing:  preserving, at least as a beginner, requires faith.  I could eat this fresh, nutritious cucumber now, when it’s a known quantity, or I could undertake a complicated process so that I could enjoy it in a different form sometime down the road.  But what if I screw it up?  What if the process fails?  I will have wasted this gift for the sake of imitating something I could have bought at the store for a couple of bucks.  But if I don’t get to eat it and it rots, it’s equally wasted.  Also, let’s face it, our taste buds get bored! 

So, hopefully I’ll master these pickling/preserving techniques and this won’t be such a leap of faith next year.


Since my last post, I’ve gone on maternity leave, had a baby girl named Ginger and made some progress in the garden — though it’s by no means a big bounty year.

First the update on the garden:  our green beans (which is to say, green, yellow and purple speckled beans) really came into their own.  Max has had his fill and I’ve even had enough to pickle one jar (ok, 1/2 jar) and really fell in love with the spicey hum of a pickled pod.  Our 7 tomato plants have become 8 with a very strong volunteer tomato plant that came forth from one of the compost piles (how fun is that!!).  There is tiny fruit with promise on the melon and watermelon plants.  Volunteer broccoli is doing way better than the planted broccoli.  Max strips the blueberry plant every morning on his way to school — I consider that his breakfast along with the chocolate I always use to bribe him into the car with minimal drama.  The peppers are still not looking so hot.

The worms are producing castings which I harvest every month — the last batch had a ton of worms in there so they must be happy.

Now on to less trivial things.  I’ve been getting to know my little girl.  She made her appearance after a planned C-section, at 8 lbs, 13 ounces.  She coos and makes funny gestures with her hands.  She’s smiling but I’m not sure if those are real smiles yet.  But they might be.

I’ve also been getting to know myself as a ‘new’ mother again.  I’ve been determined to have this maternity leave be a different experience than last time.  Let’s face it, last time I was depressed.  I was chained to the house by an evil machine called a breast pump.  I was also immobilized by cloth diapers which I wanted to use for a moral reason, but really weren’t working for me.  It felt like I didn’t go anywhere, do anything, or see anyone except the four walls of our apartment.  It was winter in more ways than one.

Flash forward two years.  The breast milk factory is closed.  We’re going with formula and compostable diapers. (We have a diaper service that picks the dirty diapers up and composts them, but if I happen to be out of the house and don’t want to lug the diaper back home, I can ditch it like a disposable one.) 

Another big difference this time around is that, J. has been home because he’s on summer break.   So, we’re basically treating this time period like an extended vacation.  I have an informal bucket list because I don’t want to feel like I’ve missed opportunities.  We went wine tasting on day 6 post surgery.  We go to the movies (Harry Potter 7-2 tomorrow).  I meet friends for lunch.  I go to parent support groups.  I feel much more present and available to my new baby and the rest of the family.  It helps that Ginger is a great sleeper.  It helps that it’s summer.  It helps that Max is an amazingly loving (though not particularly gentle) big brother.  It helps that we’ve gone down this road before.  It helps that we have an appreciation for how quickly it all changes, and we want to hold on just a little tighter this time around.

Sophomore Slump?

There’s beginner’s luck, and third time’s the charm.  But for second attempts there’s the sophomore slump.   This has been on my mind a lot lately when I look at my garden.

Last year, my backyard was a bounty.  This year, it’s more of a struggle to get my plants going — seeds, seedlings, a lot of non-starters so far.  I’m praying to the tomato gods that this harvest doesn’t disappoint because I have 7 plants that look like they have a shot. Cukes are a disaster.  Melons wouldn’t pop up.  Beans are showing their first little pods, but the plants are tiny.  Peppers are touch and go.  Arugula bolted almost as soon as it went in the ground.  Beets never really got going.  You get the picture.  [notice the lack of actual pictures… nothing to brag about]

I think before next year, I need to amend the soil in a serious way because it’s probably too depleted.  I don’t relish the thought of this, but I need to figure out a way to get a bulk amount of manure out here.   This means hiring someone to deliver it because we don’t have the kind of vehicles that can accomodate that kind of cargo. [This is one reason to have chickens, home based manure production!]   But I don’t think I can move on any of that till this fall because putting manure on my beds now will likely kill whatever little stuff I’ve got going.

The second ‘sophomore slump’ I’m concerned about is baby #2.  Friday was my last day of work, and now I have no more excuses… I have to start getting the house ready for the baby.  The things to do list is really long and I have to rely on help from other people to get a lot of them done, so having the days to myself is not necessarily the full solution.  That, and I have no stamina whatsoever — which means a lot of projects are likely to get started and then get the half ass treatment while I go lie down.  It makes me feel guilty because I know that with Max, I had all this crap figured out well in advance — but with all second babies, this one will suffer from less attention.  I’ll make it up to her somehow. (Maybe a pony as a manure source?)

Don’t laugh, but I’ve even considered bringing back the cleaning service to help me with my ‘nesting cleaning’ needs.  But I don’t think I can bring myself to do it.  It’s one thing when you’re away at the office, but standing around and pointing at what should get cleaned is just too… you know … for me.

Gardening Makes for Creative Cooking

This past weekend we were having family over and planned to do steak fajitas on the grill.   I looked at our beautiful radishes and thought that I had to incorporate it somehow into the meal.  So, I made a salsa composed of our mixed variety of radishes, our lemons which I preserved last month, our green onions, and some tomatoes we had in the fridge and some lime.  This was an amazing salsa!  I never would have thought of salsa with radish and preserved lemons if I didn’t grow/preserve this myself and was itching for a way to show it off.

A good ingredient begs for special attention.  Take, for example, this mama jama carrot I pulled up.    I feel like I should have honored it with some sort of special recipe.  But sometimes creativity gives way to practicality.  J. took it to work as part of his lunches, but I believe he got 3 lunches out of it.

And in unrelated news, had to share a cute picture of Max on his froggy potty.

Transplant Rejection

I haven’t had too much success with my seed-to-transplant process this year.  First batch of cukes (both pickling and salad cukes) burned to a crisp in the ground.  The tomatoes never got going and shriveled up, as well.  I’m reserving judgment on the beans because some of them are still holding on.  The bell peppers are highly questionable.

So, swallowed some pride and I hit the nursery this weekend.  I bought 7 types of tomatoes, a 6-pack of strawberries, and a golden bell pepper.  Before I could plant any of these, I had to clear out parts of the winter garden.  I picked the last of the shelling peas, snow peas, and cleaned up the spinach patch.  It was not as prolific as last year’s giant spinach leaves, but we grazed on it for a good few months, so it definitely worked out.   

I’m 32 weeks pregnant and my to-do list was longer than my body would accomodate.  I still need to plant 4 of the tomato plants and the bell pepper.  Maybe tomorrow night after work.

Time to check on lovely smelling banana bread in the oven.

(P.s. big Max milestone this weekend, he used the potty twice! )

« Older entries