A Summer Well Spent


It’s a warm, sunny, October day here in Wisconsin.  Cooler temperatures are on the horizon, but for today we will enjoy the warmth and sunshine for yet another day.

As I reflect on my summer (which I realize remains a mystery to readers as it’s been months since I’ve posted) I feel thankful and satisfied with what was accomplished.  I set out with a vague goal of preserving more food this year than I ever have before.  I knew that I would grow some of that food.  And that I would buy some of that food from farmers.

You might be wondering what has been grown, purchased and preserved this year.  As a matter of fact, I was wondering that same thing this morning as I pulled out a jar of peaches and thought how nice it would be to have an inventory of some sort.  Here is a list–with and without amounts–of what I worked on this summer.  I hope it inspires other urban gardeners to try some preserving.  Nothing here is exotic or difficult to do, just good ol’ jars of food and stuff in my freezer.

60-ish jars of jam:  rhubarb-vanilla, strawberry, strawberry-rhubarb, peach, peach-vanilla, blueberry
6 cups chopped frozen rhubarb
12 quarts of peaches in medium syrup (my son’s favorite!)
2 gallon bags of frozen blueberries
8 quarts frozen strawberries
strawberry fruit leathers and dried strawberries (these were gobbled up a while ago, I don’t remember exactly how much we made)
5 quarts cherries in almond syrup
4 pints cherries in wine
2 pints dried cherries
1/2 gallon cherry wine
several bags chopped, blanched kale (for winter soups)
4 pint jars dehydrated chocolate mint (for tea)
6 pints mint syrup (for mixed drinks, sweetener)
3 pints cherry wine syrup (to pour over a pound cake)
pesto (we keep eating this, I’m not sure how many we made)
kale pesto
1/2 pint jar dried chamomile (for tea)
several containers cream of broccoli soup
several containers creamy carrot soup
several containers eggplant supper soup
dried thyme
dried oregano
dried parsley
6 quarts garlic and honey dill pickles
7 pints bread and butter pickles
6 pints spicy classic dill pickles
4 pints tomato sauce
4 pints marinara sauce
4 pints tomato salsa
6 pints peach salsa
dehydrated apple rings
dehydrated tomatoes
8 pints applesauce
3 pints cinnamon applesauce
8 loaves zucchini bread
12 heads of garlic
gallon bag of frozen kale cubes (to throw in smoothies)
gallon bag of frozen beet green cubes (to throw in smoothies)

Meanwhile, we’ve eaten countless salads and tomato dishes out of garden.  We’ve eaten mountains of kale chips.  My kids have a habit of eating raw beans, peas and carrots straight out of the garden… in fact these things never make it in the house.  Every day we look forward to our raspberry snack, straight off the canes outside.  We put fresh herbs on all of our meat and fish, make salad dressing with our herbs and use them in mixed drinks.

This year we enjoyed fresh garden onions for the first time.  We made fresh juices with our celery, cucumbers, kale, parsley and other fresh garden goods.

It’s the second week of October and we still have much to look forward to.  There are tomatoes on the vine.  If a frost threatens, I can pull off the green ones and let them ripen indoors.  Until then, bruschetta and salsa awaits!  And probably a few more BLT dinners (our favorite).  Celeriac is ready to harvest and be transformed into a delicious soup.  Leeks are large this year and ready to be used in a leek and potato soup, as well as other applications, such as our Christmas ravioli filling as we’ve done in the past.  There is plenty of swiss chard and kale, the latter of which will continue to grow until it gets very cold.  Raspberries continue to ripen each day and the eggplant has hit a stride that I find hard to keep up with at this point.  I have such good luck with eggplant.

Perhaps the most interesting thing in this year’s garden is the lemon tree.  So many big, beautiful lemons!  They are turning yellow now and will be perfect stuffed into a chicken for roasting or in salad dressing, on fish, in tea, or on my favorite lemon garlic pasta recipe.  What a blessing to finally get some lemons off that little tree.

I garden in a small city sized lot.  I squeeze a lot in to my small space.  Not everything grows, not everything is a success.  That’s okay.  I’ve learned much from my garden failures.

At the beginning of the season I prayed over my garden as I planted it.  “Dear Lord, if it is your will let this garden nourish us this year.  Make it grow!”  God delivered.  I’m not a perfect steward of these blessings (oops, I’ve had to toss a few things I let go past their prime in the compost), but thankfully God doesn’t withhold His blessing just because I make some human mistakes.  I’m so glad He gives me the opportunity to keep trying and keep learning.

So, for now, my larder is full!  Praise God.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree has been working on growing these lemons all summer.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree has been working on growing these lemons all summer.

The lemons are beginning to turn from green to yellow.

The lemons are beginning to turn from green to yellow.

I picked these today--October 8th--our tomatoes continue to produce late into the season.

I picked these today–October 8th–our tomatoes continue to produce late into the season.

Celery root (celeriac) is ready for the soup.

Celery root (celeriac) is ready for the soup.

In this part of the garden, I have (from left to right) celery root, leeks and Swiss chard.

In this part of the garden, I have (from left to right) celery root, leeks and Swiss chard.

Marigolds and nasturtiums finishing out the season.  They have added so much color.

Marigolds and nasturtiums finishing out the season. They have added so much color.

My daughter is picking raspberries.  As you can see, my garden is still full.

My daughter is picking raspberries. As you can see, my garden is still full.

Plenty of herbs are available for flavoring meats, soups and sauces.

Plenty of herbs are available for flavoring meats, soups and sauces.

This garden bed is still going strong with strawberries (I admit they've taken over a bit), walking onions, celery, broccoli, carrots, kale and tomatoes.  October 8th and it is all still looking great.

This garden bed is still going strong with strawberries (I admit they’ve taken over a bit), walking onions, celery, broccoli, carrots, kale and tomatoes. October 8th and it is all still looking great.

The strawberries have really multiplied, as you can see from this view.

The strawberries have really multiplied, as you can see from this view.

Every day we enjoy raspberries.

Every day we enjoy raspberries.

Photos from June & July


I’m feeling very blessed over here as I process the fruits and veggies we’ve purchased as well as the bounty from our garden. God is providing for our earthly needs in a very lavish way this year! I’m working around the clock on peaches and blueberries, dehydrating chamomile and mint teas, eating out of the garden every day and sending my kids out for hours of snacking fun in their own backyard.

Here is a glimpse of the garden. These photos have been taken over the last month or so.

The lettuce patch in mid-June.

The lettuce patch in mid-June.

The lemon tree in mid-June, full of big, healthy, growing lemons!

The lemon tree in mid-June, full of big, healthy, growing lemons!

When my pak choy bolted instead of developing a head, I used the flowers to decorate the dinner table.

When my pak choy bolted instead of developing a head, I used the flowers to decorate the dinner table.

Making strawberry mint water.

Making strawberry mint water.

The finished strawberry mint infused water was completely refreshing.

The finished strawberry mint infused water was completely refreshing.

Making flower confetti in the dehydrator.  Will use this to top salads, appetizers or even ice cream.

Making flower confetti in the dehydrator. Will use this to top salads, appetizers or even ice cream.

The lettuce patch on July 8th.  Big, beautiful heads of romaine and butter lettuce.  Now I have to eat them before they bolt.

The lettuce patch on July 8th. Big, beautiful heads of romaine and butter lettuce. Now I have to eat them before they bolt.

My experiment with these buckets is a complete success.  Amish paste tomatoes, purple runner beans and fava beans are thriving.

My experiment with these buckets is a complete success. Amish paste tomatoes, purple runner beans and fava beans are thriving.

Everything is growing so well in this warm weather with near daily bursts of well-timed rain.

Everything is growing so well in this warm weather with near daily bursts of well-timed rain.

A view of the patio garden area.

A view of the patio garden area.

Nasturtiums spill into the yard while fennel and tomatoes are getting very tall.

Nasturtiums spill into the yard while fennel and tomatoes are getting very tall.

My first attempt at growing broccoli seems to be going well.

My first attempt at growing broccoli seems to be going well.

A healthy crop of chamomile.

A healthy crop of chamomile.

An Italian heirloom tomato.

An Italian heirloom tomato.

The purple clematis vine I planted after my daughter was born almost four years ago has really taken over the space--in a good way!  The view from the window in the nursery is so pretty.

The purple clematis vine I planted after my daughter was born almost four years ago has really taken over the space–in a good way! The view from the window in the nursery is so pretty.

Mint in the left foreground, eggplant in right foreground and raspberries in the background.

Mint in the left foreground, eggplant in right foreground and raspberries in the background.

Food preservation projects abound!

Food preservation projects abound!

Cherries gleaned from the neighbor's tree.  Aren't they beautiful?

Cherries gleaned from the neighbor’s tree. Aren’t they beautiful?

All in!


All the pots have been moved to this location so they are watered while I'm away.

All the pots have been moved to this location so they are watered while I’m away.

The process of getting the garden in went into high gear this week as we prepared to head out of town.  It was really a family effort, with my husband doing much of the structural work and hauling of supplies and the kids helping me with seedlings, seeds, weeds and watering.

I knew several months ago that the garden was going to be more productive this year, but I had no idea just how many things we would be able to squeeze in.  I’ve used every inch of dirt and nearly every pot we have.  The result is a backyard full of dozens of varieties of vegetables and beautiful flowers.  I can’t wait to see how it all grows and what we are able to do with it.  I’m especially hoping to be able to preserve more to eat throughout the off-season.

Why do it this way instead of planting fewer varieties but more of them?  Done that way, I could have enough tomatoes to make all the sauce we’d need for the year.  But I wouldn’t have anything else.  And it wouldn’t be much fun.

Planting several varieties ensures that there will be successes, even amid failures.  If tomatoes get blight, there are still many other edibles to enjoy.  Variety is also a great way to draw beneficial insects to the garden.  Each one may attract something different.

And of course, variety is beautiful!

Herb garden is planted with parsley, chamomile, dill, lavender, thyme, sage, tarragon and chives.

Herb garden is planted with parsley, chamomile, dill, lavender, thyme, sage, tarragon and chives.

My husband helped the kids create their own little garden.  They have dinosaur kale and begonias.

My husband helped the kids create their own little garden. They have dinosaur kale and begonias.

My husband installed this lattice.  I'm planning to use it for cucumbers and zucchini.  The rest of the bed is planted with garlic, bush beans, nasturtiums, marigolds, two kinds of lettuce, various beets, celery, celariac, onions, radishes and swiss chard.

My husband installed this lattice. I’m planning to use it for cucumbers and zucchini. The rest of the bed is planted with garlic, bush beans, nasturtiums, marigolds, two kinds of lettuce, various beets, celery, celariac, onions, radishes and swiss chard.

This area has three tomato plants as well as pole beans, fava beans and watermelon.

This area has three tomato plants as well as pole beans, fava beans and watermelon.

This bed is planted with tomatoes, marigolds, three kinds of kale, fennel, two kinds of carrots, broccoli, pak choi, walking onion, leeks, red onions, nasturtiums and strawberries.

This bed is planted with tomatoes, marigolds, three kinds of kale, fennel, two kinds of carrots, broccoli, pak choi, walking onion, leeks, red onions, nasturtiums and strawberries.

Wonder what I’ve been eating?


I have a website dedicated to documenting meals created from my garden.  You can find it here:  Photos from the Garden Table

A little insurance…


“Like a good neighbor…” tonight it wasn’t State Farm, but my garden that was there.

I had planned to make a salad using leftovers, including a giant bag of pre-washed, pre-cut kale.  I’ve resorted to these resource-guzzling bags of greens trucked in from who-knows-where in an effort to keep up our healthy greens intake during the off-season.  I’m so glad THAT is coming to an end.  And hopeful I won’t resort to this next year.

As I poured the kale into the salad bowl I discovered that much of it was rotten and moldy.  Ugh!  Such a waste.  And worse–it was the main feature of my dinner for the night.

Realizing there was nothing to salvage in that bag, I took the whole thing out to the compost and tossed it in.  While out there I glanced over to some lettuce I had put in on a whim last month.  It looked good!  I pulled it out.  Then, I went in the house for a few supplies and came back out to find other things for the salad.

I ended up with a delicious combination of romaine lettuce, baby kale (2 kinds), arugula, chives, radishes and pea tendrils.  This mix was so far superior in flavor and freshness to that sad bag of kale that I immediately realized (once again) how amazing a garden can be.  This was actual green food.  Not some trucked-in greenish food that was picked three weeks ago and put in plastic.

Chives and French breakfast radishes

Chives and French breakfast radishes

(From left to right)  Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, arugula, pea tendrils, chives, romaine lettuce

(From left to right) Red Russian kale, Lacinato kale, arugula, pea tendrils, chives, romaine lettuce

Because I had a garden, my family ate better tonight than if I had not had one.  Because I had a garden, I did not have to leave my house to go to a store and purchase a new bag of kale.  Because I had a garden, I stopped for an extra moment–outdoors, in the rain no less–and thanked God for the food he was providing.  I’m so thankful to have a garden.

Now, take a look at tonight’s dinner!

The beautiful blend of greens!

The beautiful blend of greens!

Salad with chicken, chickpeas, chives and radishes added.  To the side you can see the homemade ranch dressing.

Salad with chicken, chickpeas, chives and radishes added. To the side you can see the homemade ranch dressing.

You didn’t think I’d forget dessert did you?  I went out in the light drizzle of rain today and happily harvested some rhubarb to make the pie my six year-old had requested.

Rhubarb pie, a perfect sweet-tart end to my garden inspired meal.

Rhubarb pie, a perfect sweet-tart end to my garden inspired meal.

There were a few things I wanted to share regarding tonight’s meal.  The first, is that my kids wanted to play a game in which I told them to look for a certain thing and they would find it and eat it.  So I would say, “Find the arugula!” and they would find one and excitedly hold it up to show me.  They got the idea to do this because I told them there were seven things from the garden in the salad, they wanted to find each one.  For once they were happy that I let them “play” with their food.

Second, the ranch dressing we had tonight was leftover from my son’s first birthday party this past weekend.  It went over BIG TIME with the crowd, so I thought I’d share a link to the recipe with readers in case you were looking for something new to try.

Ina Garten’s Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

There’s even a video of her making the dressing.  Check it out!

And finally, I just want to encourage anyone who may be reading this to try planting  a little something.  You don’t need to have seven things available to go in a salad in order to grow your own food.  One thing in a pot is good too!  In this day and age when we don’t know who grew our food or where it was grown, there truly is insurance in knowing that you grew something–anything.  It’s good practice to plant something if you can.  So, give it a try this season.  And may God bless your garden!

Photos from the first week of May.


Peas... I crowded them in there on purpose so we could snack on the pea tendrils.

Peas… I crowded them in there on purpose so we could snack on the pea tendrils.

Tomato seedlings, first day outdoors.

Tomato seedlings, first day outdoors.

Chives are in and we've been eating them.

Chives are in and we’ve been eating them.

Herb garden in foreground and veggies in the back.

Herb garden in foreground and veggies in the back.

This raised bed is planted with strawberries, walking onions, red onions, leeks, fennel, three kinds of kale and nasturtiums--so far!  Much more to come.

This raised bed is planted with strawberries, walking onions, red onions, leeks, fennel, three kinds of kale and nasturtiums–so far! Much more to come.

Raspberries on their way up.

Raspberries on their way up.

The raspberries have filled in their spot nicely this year.

The raspberries have filled in their spot nicely this year.

Mint is starting to grow back.  I was able to harvest some for my Derby Day mint julep.

Mint is starting to grow back. I was able to harvest some for my Derby Day mint julep.

Close up of the mint.

Close up of the mint.

Radishes and swiss chard.

Radishes and swiss chard.

Celeriac (celery root).

Celeriac (celery root).

Here is the garlic.  It seems to me that several cloves did not grow.

Here is the garlic. It seems to me that several cloves did not grow.

A new development involving some buckets.  I'll keep you posted!

A new development involving some buckets. I’ll keep you posted!

Rhubarb is filling in.

Rhubarb is filling in.

I love the color of the rhubarb stalks.

I love the color of the rhubarb stalks.

The dwarf meyer lemon tree is doing better than ever and sporting several lemons.  I didn't even count them, there were so many!

The dwarf meyer lemon tree is doing better than ever and sporting several lemons. I didn’t even count them, there were so many!

Robins have returned to my honeysuckle trellis and here are their eggs!

Robins have returned to my honeysuckle trellis and here are their eggs!

 

Please note: I realize all of these photos have a smudge on them.  Unfortunately, I didn’t realize it until it was too late.  This is what happens when you let your kids use the camera!  I should also mention that some of the photos at the time of publishing appear to be the wrong way.  I’m working on it, and it may be that as you view it they will already be corrected… I’m not sure what is wrong on my end since all looks to be right.

Leaves & Shoots: A tale of basement gardening success.


It may not be the coldest March on record, but it’s starting to feel like the longest.  At least here in Wisconsin, where I haven’t seen the grass since February.  And the sun, haven’t seen much of that either.

But I can’t complain too much.  You see, despite frightful cold and lingering snow, I’ve been gardening.  Not outside like last year, when record warmth allowed peas and radishes to go in the ground in March.  No, this year I’ve got a basement garden up and running.

I started it back in January so that I could grow wheatgrass for juicing.  That was so successful that I thought I might expand into lettuces.  Success again!  And now that it’s March I have my garden starts growing under the lights too.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

This is the only grass to be found at my house.

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter?  Hmmm...

Has wheatgrass been the key to staying healthy this winter? Hmmm…

I’m having so much fun experimenting with this.  My setup is simple–two grow lights hung from the rafters and heat mats below.   The lights are on a timer system, so they come on and shut off automatically.  I just have to make sure everything has enough water.

Basement gardening.  Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

Basement gardening. Our basement is typically 55 degrees in the winter, but the heat mats and lights make it warm enough for germination.

You should know that I have no idea what I’m doing, I’ve never done this before and I did basically no research before setting it up.  But it’s working!  And I’m pretty excited about it.

Last week I enjoyed my first salad from the basement and today I had another for my dinner.  Because I planted a whole tray of “cut and come again” leaf lettuce, I’ll get to enjoy 3 or 4 more salads at least.  And by the time I eat the last salad, I should be able to do some potted lettuces outside.  In fact, the spinach that I overwintered will likely be producing by then.  (Fingers crossed!)

Lettuces under the lights.

Lettuces under the lights.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

The lights stay on for 12 hours a day.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

I brought the lettuce up to a sunny spot today before cutting for dinner.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here... if only we had sun like this every day.

This is probably enough light to keep them up here… if only we had sun like this every day.

Tray after cutting of lettuce.  Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Tray after cutting of lettuce. Now it will return to the basement or sit next to the patio door and grow more lettuce leaves.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Lettuce ready to be dressed for dinner.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

Tomatoes and other veggie starts easily germinate under these ideal conditions.

I have also started some herbs with the intent of growing them in a pot in the house.  In addition to that, my kids planted some peas in take out containers so that we can add pea shoots to our salads.

I’m not going to let this miserably cold weather stop me from enjoying my hobby.  I’ve just had to find different ways to grow while I wait out winter.

Pickled Beets


This post is part of my REWIND series!  Pretend it’s July and enjoy.  :)

It’s been 99 in the shade here all week.  So much heat and humidity has caused the garden to either accelerate growth (as in bolting lettuces) or decelerate growth (like the leeks that would prefer cooler temps).

Beets fresh from the garden and ready for the royal treatment.

Beets fresh from the garden and ready for the royal treatment.

I had noticed that my beets were just the right size for harvesting, and since the heat was doing them no good I pulled them out yesterday and did some pickling. It might seem counter intuitive to boil a huge vat of water on a 99 degree day, but  when the produce is ready it’s time to can–regardless of the weather.  It’s on days like this that I’m thankful for central air!  I’m not sure how our ancestors processed all their food in this heat.

I used a recipe from an older canning book, it didn’t tell me how many pounds of beets I would need or how long to boil the syrup.  Hopefully I guessed correctly!

I used this old recipe and it turned out to be delicious.

I used this old recipe and it turned out to be delicious.

The beets needed to be boiled then peeled.  Most I kept whole, although there were some larger ones that I cut in half before placing into jars.

Cooked and peeled beets.

Cooked and peeled beets.

I truly enjoy food projects.  Working with food makes me happy and I love to think about the time when we will open up the jar and enjoy those beets in the future.  I feel like I’m really participating in the feeding of my family in a completely hands-on way.

As I worked with the beets I admired their deep red color.  So much nutrition packed into those jewel-toned beauties.  Growing beets has been a fun and easy, gratifying experience.

This was an easy and rewarding project.

This was an easy and rewarding project.

[And now a word from present day me, January 2013.]  The final product was enjoyed with a few meals and shared with a special friend.  These beets had that old-fashioned taste I had hoped for, and the spices gave them a bit of a holiday flair.  I only wish I had more than four jars because they are already gone!  I will definitely be canning beets again this year.

Jars of pickled beets all ready for storage and gifting.

Jars of pickled beets all ready for storage and gifting.

REWIND: Posts I wrote but never published!


It’s time to back up the bus and take a trip back into 2012.  It was a year in which I had my third baby in March and spent a significant amount of time tending to my family’s needs.  I was often pulled away from the computer.  There were so many posts I started writing and was never able to finish.

Well, January 2013 is here and with it comes a (few) spare minutes for blogging.  It helps that my baby now takes a nice nap during the day and doesn’t need to be nursed around the clock as has been the case for the last 10 months.

There were so many unpublished gems last year.  I’m just going to finish them up and post them as I have time.  So you may be reading about the heat of summer while it’s snowing outside… but hey–that might be a good thing!

Video

Favorite Garden Photos


I was inspired to create this video while looking back through my garden photos from the past three years. Set to “How Great Thou Art” and “In the Garden”, here are most of my favorite photos I’ve taken in my garden. Compiled this way, it’s amazing to see the color, texture and beauty of God’s creation. And this is just one little back yard.