Monthly Archives: February 2011

Garden Planner


I really like these kitchen garden planners from Gardener’s Supply.  Great ideas here:

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Garden Tutorial


White Flower Farm has produced some wonderful garden “how to” videos.  Check it out:

Planning my garden, graciously.


Working a small urban garden requires creativity and planning.  With limited space and sometimes odd sun and shade patterns, a gardener needs to have a strategy for working the space.

My 2010 garden was the first garden I planned in which I purposely planted early and late crops, tall and small crops, quick growers and slow growers together but in harmony with one another in order to make the most of my space.  For a first timer, I did pretty well! 

Before and after, the vegetables filled in the entire space.

In one raised bed I started the season with peas, lettuces, arugula and radishes.  As those were being harvested, the cucumbers began to take precedence in the space, happily climbing up trellis in the middle of loose leaf lettuce.  I was picking the cucumbers by the time the pumpkins really needed to sprawl out, and was able to pull out the cucumber vines when they were done producing so that the pumpkins could have the whole bed to themselves for the end of the season.  When pumpkins were done in October, I planted garlic.  The garlic will kick off the 2011 season when it shoots out of ground in about a month.

Peas and lettuces fill this bed in May and June.

By the end of June, cucumbers are climbing up the trellises.

Pumpkins take over the space to close out the season.

 

In the other bed, things got even crazier.  Carrots were planted in a line down the entire length of the bed, dividing it.  They took a break in the middle of the bed to give the leeks a 1′ x 1′ space to grow.  I only grew 8 small leeks in that space, but they did grow!

Beneath tomato plants, I planted beets; next to those, marigolds.  Cabbages and radicchio were neighbors to the spinach.  Beans grew on both sides of the bed, and in the last remaining space I put fennel seedlings. 

Close quarters for the fennel and beans.

Leeks filling a small space.

Marigolds, tomatoes and beets.

It was about mid-season when I realized how much the sun was affecting one corner of that bed.  A tree was keeping it shaded for a few hours more than the rest of the garden, so the beans on that side did poorly.  And the insects really liked the damp microclimate that was created by the shade.  This was compounded by the fact that things were planted closely together, essentially shading each other.  This year I will know this and plant accordingly. 

There are many ways to plan a garden, I prefer to sketch things out beforehand, making sure I’ve got a spot for everything.  Besides the raised beds, I use pots and flower beds along my house as well.  All of these end up on my sketches, labeled with the intended occupant.

Once I’m out in the garden putting the plants in, I often make changes to my plan.  It’s the gardener’s prerogative I suppose.  Sometimes something doesn’t feel right, or look right.  I change it.  Sometimes what seemed like a good idea during a February planning session turns out to be a ridiculous idea in reality.  I’m open to that.

Last year I wanted to grow celeriac–arguably the ugliest vegetable.  I love soup made with celeriac, onions, apples and potatoes in the fall.  It didn’t work out though.  Turns out celeriac needs to be started really early, and my plan didn’t call for that.  When I realized this I had to make some changes.  No big deal though.  A garden is a very fluid thing.  It ebbs and flows.  It changes itself depending on sun, water and other weather conditions.  The gardener takes a cue from the garden itself and adjusts accordingly.

I’m working on my 2011 plan right now.  It looks like I’ll need to buy some new supports for beans.  I also need to think about how many vining plants I can realistically grow in a small space.  I’m so tempted to try melons and squash as well as cucumbers, but how to manage so many vines?  It really does require a plan, and probably some prudence as well.

I’m reminded of The Parable of the Sower (Matthew, chapter 13)  in which the farmer scattered seed over various surfaces with equally varied results.  We all know you can’t grow a seed on a path, a rock or among the thorns.  Good soil produces good results.  Likewise, God’s Word works on the soil that is ready to receive it.  My heart needs to be a vessel of good soil, ready for God to work it.  I can’t let the thorns take over my heart or let someone or something steal the Word from me because I’ve covered my heart with a path.  And I certainly don’t want God to find a rocky place when he comes to sow his seed. 

I’m making my garden plans, and I’m also preparing my heart for God.  It’s something I am reminded of when I think of my garden and the act of sowing seeds.  I know my heart can be a beautiful garden filled with the scent and beauty of God’s love.  “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it.  He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  Matthew 13:23

I hope my garden here at home is as abundant as that in the parable!

An "abundance" of eggplant grows next to the house.

Photos from the third week of February.


Early in the week, seeds began to sprout.

 

Lake Michigan, icy blue.

 

On Wednesday, the temperature started to rise!

 

Snow retreated and revealed our long lost deck.

 

By the end of the week, the herb seedlings are really looking great.

Cookbooks!


I really have no excuse for not knowing what to make for dinner. After all, this is my cookbook collection:

My cookbook and recipe storage shelf.

There must be a million or more dinner ideas right there on that shelf!

I simply love to page through a cookbook or magazine to check out recipes and read about food.  It’s a bit of an obsession.  I’ve come across others like me, people who read a cookbook like it’s a novel.  We can’t help it, we simply have a voracious appetite for recipes and food writing!

I can eat a bowl of processed macaroni and cheese while reading through a recipe for Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemon and it’s almost–almost–like I ate the chicken rather than the mac.  I can work through a recipe in my mind, tasting it along the way, imagining each element coming together and then visualize the final product.

I suppose this is like reading a book or watching a movie and feeling so swept into the world created by the author or director that you felt like you were there.

And then there are the clipped recipes from newspapers, magazines, websites, friends, family, etc. I’ve tried different methods for organizing and using them. It’s a work in progress which I’ll write more about another time since it warrants its own post.  Could I ever possibly use the 1,000’s of recipes I’ve collected?  Probably not.  But they provide me with ideas and inspiration.  Some of them I’ve had around for quite a while, they are like old friends.  I like to go back and visit them once in a while.  Often a recipe or idea that did not appeal to me before might hit me the right way another time and I end up cooking it.

This year, I’m making an extra effort to have my recipes ready for when the produce is picked in my garden.   There are so many new things I’d like to try, having my recipes ready lays the groundwork for successful and interesting meals.  No one can get bored when there are new tastes to try every day. 

Around here, you won’t hear us say “what are we going to do with ANOTHER zucchini?”; we have an arsenal of ideas for any garden veg that decides to go crazy. 

Bring it on, Garden of 2011–the cookbooks and I are waiting!

Cookbook Desktop Wallpaper


I wonder what others use as their desktop wallpapers.  I am constantly changing mine to whatever was my last favorite photo. 

This week, I’m going with this photo of cookbooks from my own collection.  If you’d like to steal it, left click to open the photo, then right click and choose “Set as Background”.

Happy Cooking!

Friday Morning Perspective


Show tunes are a great start to the day, particularly when the lyrics are farm-friendly and fun!  Enjoy this clip from the beloved musical Oklahoma.  It’ll start your Friday morning off right.

Picture Books in Winter


Picture Books In Winter

Summer fading, winter comes–
Frosty mornings, tingling thumbs,
Window robins, winter rooks,
And the picture story-books.

Water now is turned to stone
Nurse and I can walk upon;
Still we find the flowing brooks
In the picture story-books.

All the pretty things put by,
Wait upon the children’s eye,
Sheep and shepherds, trees and crooks,
In the picture story-books.

We may see how all things are
Seas and cities, near and far,
And the flying fairies’ looks,
In the picture story-books.

How am I to sing your praise,
Happy chimney-corner days,
Sitting safe in nursery nooks,
Reading picture story-books?

Robert Louis Stevenson

More time indoors means more time spent in books, online and watching movies.  I do all of these things with my son and daughter.  We love to read books together–the more pictures the better!  Pictures and words can transport us from the cold, grey existence of a Wisconsin February to a myriad of places, times and circumstances.

This time of year I’m spending a lot of time looking at seed catalogs, gardening books, websites and magazines.  The colorful photos are inspiring and thinking about all those different fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers makes me happy.  I do feel a bit like a wide-eyed child enjoying a picture book and all the wonder of imagination it sparks.

Since I’ve begun gardening, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) cannot affect me.  I have found a way to cope with this season.  I have found peace in the fact that my garden needs the rest that winter provides.  I appreciate the time that I have to plan for the next season.  And I also find that having a winter makes spring, summer and fall that much more a thing to savor.  By the time the ice starts melting I’m more than ready to delve into another gardening season.  It’s the time off that makes the time on so much fun.

You know, life has seasons too.  Of course I’m not the first person to make this comparison.  But there are days that seem very cold, unproductive–sad even.  Other days may be warm and abundant, joyful!  And every kind of day in between.  I’ve experienced them all.  I’m guessing most people have.

So, how to cope with a wintry time of life?

Thanks be to God that all we have to do to remember the spring, summer and fall of our life is open up that old familiar book and dig in.  The Bible shines with all the SONshine we could ever need, giving us hope for our future and a reason to keep on going throughout our winters.

This reminds me.  Besides spending time in picture books with my kids this year, I’m going to spend more time in the Bible with them.  We have some really nicely illustrated children’s Bibles here at home.  Often, in the excitement to hear Mommy stumble through Fox in Socks (again…) the Bible books get passed over.  What an opportunity we are missing to let some SONshine in! 

Here’s to Winter!  The season that makes the other seasons–and God’s love–seem even more bright.  Thank you Winter for your quietness, your grayness and your coldness.  They are blessings too.

A February Kind of Project


Inspired by the salad mixes I’ve seen in the grocery store lately, I thought I might try to grow some herbs indoors to add to salad greens.  I especially like some cilantro thrown in to a salad, and since I use parsley and basil weekly anyway, they seemed like nice additions too.

My initial idea was to plant them in the cans I had leftover from my recent mega batch of chili.  Then, over the weekend while perusing a magazine, I saw this:

Herb-in-a-Can project on the pages of this month's Birds and Blooms.

Well, I guess someone else had the same idea.  At least I know it works!

And so I’ve recruited my kids to help.  Here is our herb project in photos:

Empty cans are a nice size for growing some herbs.

Not pictured is my husband using some sort of power tool to make drainage holes in the cans.  It’s important to provide a place for water to drain out of, and into.  Once these cans are planted, they will be put on a tray with pebbles or marbles underneath them to allow for proper drainage.

Next, let your child play with the cans. (This step is optional!)

 

We filled the cans with a soiless seeding mix.

Prepared for the mess, I covered our workspace in newspaper.

Cans are filled with mix, water is added and then some more mix to fill. Sure glad I put the newspaper down!

 

Seeds selected for this project: parsley, cilantro and bush basil.

We labeled the cans before we put the seeds in, just to be safe!

My son sprinkles the seeds on, we then cover lightly with the soiless mix.

Finally, the seeds are given a spritz of water.

Ready to germinate.

My next step will be to add the pebbles to this tray, then stash it in the bathroom until the seeds germinate.  Wait–did I just say the bathroom?  Indeed!  It’s the warmest room in our house and we always take advantage of the heat in there to germinate our seeds.  I do not have to use heat mats or grow lights to start seeds.  Bonus: the emerging seedlings LOVE the steam from the shower.

I’ll be sure to keep readers posted on this project!

Beans: Really Slow Food


 

Tongue of Fire beans.

About a year ago, I decided I would grow some pretty little beans that would add color and interest to my garden.  I did not have a long-term plan for the actual dried beans, but I thought it might be nice to have them.

Now it is time to do something with these beans.  This is new territory for me, I’ve never cooked a dry bean in my life.  And like anyone who has nursed anything into existence, I’m a bit reluctant to get started for fear of messing something up.  After all, these beans have been a year in the making.

I first chose these beans from Johnny’s Seeds based on their lovely color photo and the promise that these Tongue of Fire beans retain their flavor no matter what you do with them, and could double as snap beans if I chose to pick them early.

I was pleasantly surprised when they poked out of the ground in early June, ahead of the other beans I had planted and much healthier looking.  They further pleased me by not being eaten by whatever ate the other beans.  I’m not sure if it was the sunny location, or the constant tending by my son, but these beans looked great for the entire season.  They were the beauties they promised to be.

Bean seedlings emerge, sharing space with marigolds and tomatoes.

 

I’ve decided on a recipe for Pasta and Bean Soup from We Called It Macaroni by Nancy Verde Barr.  This cookbook is written in such a way that it’s hard for me to stop reading Nancy’s personal stories and anecdotes.  I’m drawn to her simple Italian bean recipe by her memories of running her hand through the bags of dried beans at the local Italian market of her childhood.  She has a knowledge and love for beans!  How perfect.

I love this Italian American cookbook.

 

It’s a multi-step process to take beans from dried to mouth-watering.  And let’s not forget the months already spent growing the beans, the weeks drying them, and the time they’ve spent on my pantry shelf awaiting this day.

Out of the jar and ready for action.

 

There is so much to love about these beans.  Each bean has its own unique design, and the colors are terrific.  (Please forgive some of these photos… apparently a snow storm is not the best time to photograph food in natural light.)

Pretty beans.

 

I have to admit I had some fun playing with these beans in their dried form.

 

Now that I’ve had my fun making bean arrangements and photographing them, it’s time to begin the bean bath.  Dried beans need to be soaked overnight, or they can be subjected to the “quick soak” method which involves heat and less time soaking.  For my purposes, overnight soaking worked just fine.

Following the overnight soak, they were drained, put in a pot with cold water to cover 2 inches and a bay leaf, brought to a boil and then simmered for an hour.  I couldn’t resist stealing a few from the pot here and there and calling it a “taste test”.

The cooked beans had a pleasant texture and great bean flavor.

Soaking and cooking the beans.

 

Now the beans were ready for the recipe, twenty-four hours after I pulled them out of the pantry and one year since I purchased the seeds to grow them.

Beans were added to the Bean and Pasta Soup, then served with a smile. Delicious!

 

I think the lesson here is that sometimes slow is good, really good.  In a world where we are accustomed to instant gratification, it seems odd to wait so long for a bowl of bean soup.  It might even be kind of backwards if I thought about it too much.  I could probably buy a bowl of bean soup for $2.00 at the local deli.  Instead, I’m sure I spent at least that much on the envelope of seeds.  I had to use garden space and water to grow the beans.  It took time and energy.  Cooking them involved even more time, the purchase of a few ingredients, and of course that dreaded chore: cleaning up the kitchen and dirty dishes.  It was an effort that seems a bit out of proportion to the result.

Or was it?  As a gardener, I get so much satisfaction out of eating something I grew.  Especially when it turns out so well.  As a mom, I am able to glean so many lessons from the simple task of making this soup.  My kids know how a bean grows, they know what a bean–both raw and cooked–tastes like.  They know the joy of running their hands through a bowl of dried beans, just like Nancy Verde Barr remembers from her own childhood.  They know that God gives us the resources we need to provide for ourselves and our bodies, if we will just put in the effort.  They help with measuring, stirring, “taste tests” and serving the final product.

We pray over this bowl of soup: “Come Lord Jesus, be our Guest; and let these gifts to us be blest. Amen.” 

We look outside, where a five-foot snow drift rests against our patio door.  How awesome is it to enjoy something from the garden on a particularly wintry day when I can’t even walk out the door if I wanted to?  It is awesome indeed. 

It was worth the wait!