Gardening in the Snow

And then it snowed. Again. And again. And again. The children now look forward to school as a pleasant interruption to their days in pajamas playing with Legos and building snow forts. The snowblower to which I reluctantly agreed now seems like an old, and well loved friend. Our chats about someday screening our porch or building a fire pit have given way to discussions about wood stoves and window replacements, blown in insulation and how to move the common entry to the garage before the salt, sand and chemical crud eat the flooring in the house.

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my sick of being cold face

I make no pretense that it never snows in the Mid-Atlantic, that we’re being subjected to some major injustice, or that these snows have been spectacular individually, but as with most folks in North America, I have now had enough.

We’ve eaten soup.

We’ve baked cookies and banana bread.

We’ve created worlds and watched curling (okay, not for long, but I had to know).

Whether the weather is ready or not, we are quite ready for Spring. The best antidote for my winter hostility is to focus my thoughts on the months to come. What better way to anticipate the end to the seemingly endless Tundra than by planning the garden and planting some seeds.

If you’ve been playing along for a while, you know that when it comes to following directions, I prefer an abstract approach, and this has presented me with some challenges in my gardening efforts in the past. Get up and go get it done only helps you if you’re doing the right things… or at least things that aren’t clearly wrong. In an effort to increase my garden success I’ve decided that, in addition to implementing the Big Dog Protection System, I will try to do some helpful reading in the cold months to improve my garden outcomes. I’ve also become interested in some new (or very old) gardening practices and am considering ways to implement them in the garden.

To that end I’ve been taking a spin with some of my old favorites to read about “crop” rotation. I use quotes because I feel silly using the word crop for my backyard garden, but the principles still apply.  I find Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch to be unbeatably reasonable on this topic (and all others that I’ve referred to them for) and my original garden guru, Mel Bartholomew, indicates that crop rotation is important just by building it into his square foot gardening approach.  I’ve had some trouble with various diseases and decreased production over the last few years, so this year I’m going to move some things around in very specific ways – get those plants helping each other and rebuilding the soil a bit.  We shall see.

I’m also super interested in implementing some permaculture strategies in the garden, although I confess that the extent to which these methods depart physically from what I’m only barely managing to do now is a bit intimidating.  But when a local landscaper,Michael Judd, writes a beautiful book on the subject that includes his pictures taken in the county you live in… well you don’t get much better advice than that. It’s like learning from a neighbor who takes great pictures. Reading… reading… reading.

In time honored tradition, I’ve already made my first gardening mistake by failing to realize that the extreme and persistent cold that we’ve experienced this winter has an impact even on my little indoor seed starting efforts. While I would usually remove covers from mini greenhouses once seedlings have sprouted, the constant blowing of warm air from the heat being on ALL THE TIME has proven far too drying for going topless. Overexposure led to terrible embarassment, and a trayful of VERY dead seedlings.

Even with one failure under my belt, looking at my stack of books, my graph paper, and the feathery alien seedlings growing in my living room fills me with hope that perhaps this will be the last snow for the season, that maybe, just maybe, the heat will turn off someday soon. I’m going to go make some soup and read about raised beds on contour to capture the rain. How about you? I hear we may get more snow on Thursday. For now I shall continue with the investigations and planning that are the unsung heroes of any human endeavor. Faith, hope, and a little optimism in a little seed in a little dirt.

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Spaghetti Squash with Sunflower Lemon Pesto (DF / GF)

Walkin’ that line between summer and fall
Feelin’ like maybe I can have it all…

And I can!  Well, I can have fresh squash and basil anyway!  Speaking of pairing foods in a speed dating type situation…. (we talked about that in our last post and are dreaming up a fun contest around that theme)…..

Spaghetti Squash says, “I’m new around here, what do you plants do for fun?”
Basil: “I just turn all my faces up and keep reaching for the sky!”

Reaching for the sky IS fun and even on a cloudy day, there is tons of room up there for dreams and hope and autumn leaves twirling their way to a moment’s repose on the ground.  Reaching for the sky turns my eyes into and onto larger ideas, beliefs and a faith that I am part of the seasonal change that defies all of the little problems that cloud my vision of the beautiful, expansive sky.

So you’re probably thinking “This must be an easy recipe if she has time for all this ruminating on the sky!” :-)

It is indeed an easy recipe and another one that modifies a recipe we’ve posted earlier.  This time I was getting jiggy with the dilly sunflower cheese Little Sis introduced us to after a bear visited their suburban backyard. Continue reading

Deer? What Deer? Feasting From the Garden

You may recall my tales of woe. This year’s garden has been pretty disappointing since the loss of our sweet terrier, who was apparently much better at keeping the critters away than I thought. I tried a variety of things to keep the deer and the squirrels at bay, and had modest success with some plants, but still lost a lot of produce – especially my tomatoes until….

Enter Baxter. My hero. Since we picked Baxter up from the rescue 3 weeks ago, I have watched my neglected garden spring back to life. The deer repellent research is over.  There is, quite simply, nothing as effective as a pooch in dissuading exurban deer from garden destruction.

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Know what those are? Tomatoes. Growing amidst the neglected vines and the weedy overgrowth. Growing in spite of the rain that has plagued so many gardeners this summer. Growing and turning red in the middle of the garden that was reduced to stubs. What better expression of hope could there be? Continue reading

Fall Veggies and Other Garden News

We’ve been so very busy this summer that I completely missed the dates for starting seedlings for fall veggies.  Honestly, with the whole deer situation, I can’t say that I’m sad I haven’t been coaxing along the next batch of deer fodder.  However, when in my local garden center, and I do hope you have one you like, I couldn’t resist taking a stroll into the area where the fall veggies for transplant were sitting, calling to me: “Super fresh cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce, right here, delicious and affordable nutrition awaits….” with the way the weather has been, I simply couldn’t resist grabbing a few and enlisting some help getting those puppies in the ground – which was made easier by the great job Bambi has done clearing the field…  Why on earth am I doing this? Continue reading

Simple Pakistani Fare (GF,V)

A few years ago I got a cookbook. It was a life changer. I know that sounds a little melodramatic – and it is I guess, but food can change us, and the way that we look at food can change us.  Before my kids were born I started thinking about simplicity a bit, and was immediately attracted to the idea behind More-With-Less. This cookbook encouraged me to think about the role of processed food in my home, to think about my relationship with meals and food, and to slow it all down a little.

Over the years I’ve used this book to explore international cuisine from a non-restaurant perspective, international cuisine that regular people in other countries actually eat in their homes. Before we made all of our dietary changes, this was the perfect companion to simpler and yet more interesting meals. And now, I find the simple recipes in this book so very easy to adapt and the philosophy behind them is so peace creating for me that I wanted to share it with you.

IMG_9673Tonight I returned to an old favorite of ours, and made a little switcheroo so I could still eat it on a weekday. The author shares a recipe for Pakistani Kima, made with ground beef.  When I made it in the past, I used ground turkey.  Tonight, I made lentils the star of this simple curry show. Surprise! Another fabulous lentil dish.  Perhaps we really should call ourselves the Lentil Lodge… At any rate, this easy curry was fantastic and just the thing for the half of my crew fighting a nasty little end of summer bug.  Lentils, curry spices, fresh green beans, potatoes, onions and tomatoes.  Fantastic.

Pakistani Lentil Kima – adapted from More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre

  • 3 T coconut oilIMG_9681
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 potatoes, rough cut 1 inch pieces
  • 1 T curry powder
  • 1 1/2 t salt
  • dash pepper
  • dash each cinnamon, ginger, and turmeric
  • 2 1/2 c diced tomatoes
  • 2 c fresh green beans, cut in half
  • 2 c cooked lentils

Warm coconut oil in pan (I used cast iron). Saute onions on med heat until they are at least translucent.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant.  Add potatoes and stir to coat with coconut oil.  Add spices and stir to coat. Let cook for a minute or so.  Add tomatoes. Turn heat down to simmer and cover.  Cook about 15 minutes; check potatoes for doneness and simmer until nearly cooked through. Add green beans and cover.  Simmer for an additional 5 minutes (more or less to your green bean doneness preference). Add lentils and stir.  Heat until lentils are warm. Serve over rice (or whatever gran you have on hand). We garnished with a little coconut and fresh cilantro.  So easy and so delish.

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How Does Your Garden Grow?

I’ve just had a glorious week at the Chautauqua Institution in NY with my family and my parents.  This year I really detached from everything – which is largely why you’e not heard much from me.  I needed a break and while I was taking that break I learned SO much.  Personal growth aside, I had a fabulous week learning more about gardening.

I got to take a class on garden design with one of my mothers (I am lucky enough to have two) and while I am not much for aesthetic gardening,  have to say that it just may be time to turn over a new leaf (yes, I know it was too easy – grown away – har har – somebody stop me).  I spent a week learning a lot about perennial gardening from the nicest collection of gardeners.  For once I was the spring chicken in the room, and I have to say I was delighted to be so.  These folks got me so charged up I began having wild and ambitious ideas about changes to make to our little piece of the suburbs – even changes that can’t be eaten.

Whilst spending all this time smelling the roses, or the butterfly bushes I prefer, I also did some long overdue reading pertinent to food gardening.  I am just too practical to go all floral – and besides, I’ll need snacks while I’m pruning (or whatever it is I’ll have to do if I go through with all these flower based plans…. I brought my copy of Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture with me on my trip and devoured a good half of it.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, it’s about permaculture for the backyard.  Hunh?

Permaculture is, and this is my own terrible definition, growing plants in a way that most closely recreates the interactions between living things in the natural environment.  The bad thing about permaculture? You have to learn a lot and the plants that many suggest are not as readily available as the ones most yard gardeners are accustomed to using.  The GREAT thing about permaculture? If you get it right, you don’t have to do NEARLY as much WORK.  The plants feed each other, attract appropriate pests, the soil stays healthy and angel choirs sing 24/7.  Okay, that last bit was over the top, but seriously if this works as they say, and there’s a growing number of people who say that it does, I am in, at least a little. Let the research on perennial vegetables and fruit and nut trees begin!

My borrowed blister beetle photo.

Now that I am home with all this information, I have to face my current situation. I spent the morning saving the lawn and the shrubs from the weeds. I tore out two long dead shrubs with visions of flowering things in my head.  My boy and I spent the afternoon reclaiming the veggie patch from weeds.  WOW what a week (okay more than a week) of rain and reasonable temps did for the weeds. We harvested while we weeded and ended up bringing in quite a haul given what it looked like when we started.  Still no tomatoes, but plenty of blister beetles.

IMG_9649The good news is that their presence in the garden likely means we’ll have a few less grasshoppers at some point (the larvae eat the grasshopper eggs), but they are damaging to veggie crops, so I went straight for the big gun (well, the biggest one I will use on food crops) and applied Captain Jacks Dead Bug Brew. Thank you for eating the grasshoppers; no, you can’t stay. And you harlequin beetles over there on the kale, you’re going too.  Sorry. No, really, I’m a little sorry.  Yeah, I’m weird.

My aesthetic lanscape also took a hit in the bug damage department.  A few of the shrubs that line our front walk seem to have been consumed by some sort of tent caterpillar.  They were healthy when we left and now…. Truth to tell, I don’t like these shrubs anyway – who plants pricker bushes on the front walk? Welcome, don’t touch, owwwwwwww.

 

Healthy Shrub

Healthy Shrub

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Nearly Dead Shrub

IMG_9664I gave these a dose of Captain Jack’s as well, just in case any of the little buggers were still in there and are getting ready to move on to things I DO care about.  Now I have an excuse to pull those dead ones and replace them. YAY! I’ll add these to the list I made of plants that are dead, dying, or misplaced that I get to pull up and add to the deer barrier bramble behind the fence (the latest in a long line of deer disuasion devices while we look for a new canine friend). What I really need to do is find a way to bottle some of this enthusiasm for use in the spring. In the meantime, I’ll be tearing things out, reading about perennial edibles and lookables, and building new beds with Amazon boxes, leaves, and soil. How does your garden grow?

Herbed Sweet Tomatoes with Rice

I got ya with the second word didn’t I?  I do like sweet and it is certainly the biggest potential stumbling block for me in terms of maintaining a healthy diet.  Sweet is like the golden ring – the pinnacle – the happy juice of food and food rewards, isn’t it?  Having just spent a week with Sweetie-Dad, my sweet tooth has been tested and also shown what the real Master of Sweets enjoys!  Of course my Dad is also just plain sweet – but Little Sis and I come by our sugar cravings very honestly.  It was Sweetie-Dad’s Mom who would roll out the pie or cake after most any meal and ask, “What’ll you have?”

Both please! With ice cream! And can I have a little bit of Co-Cola with that please Grammy?

Back to present time and reality…. I actually do not crave those things like I used to and have found that I can appreciate naturally sweet foods more while
taking the edge off that sweet tooth.  And because Little Sis and I are also the offspring of Carni-Mom our sweet tooth is really sharp ;-)

Super Step-Mom and I rolled out a delicious rice-pasta dish which I chose to re-make at home with rice and walnuts – yummy both ways and using LOTS of sweet little tomatoes.  Oh I DO love those sweet little tomatoes – beautiful grape tomatoes and sweeter varieties of cherry tomatoes blended with some basil, oregano and parsley from the garden.  I’ll have seconds of that my wonderful Grammy and save the cake for another day.

Fresh from the garden Baby.  So good!

Fresh from the garden Baby. So good!

Herbed Sweet Tomatoes with Rice

2 cups brown rice (cooked in vegetable bouillion for extra flavor) – don’t forget to make extra rice if that will help meals for the next few days!
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion (sweet if you have it!)
1-2 cloves garlic (I used 1 large clove)
2 med. or 1 Lge zucchini cut how you like (I slice coins and then cut coins into strips)
3-4 cups sweet little ‘maters
Optional – other fresh veggies – SWEET peppers are especially good, didn’t have any ripe
1 Tbsp. fresh oregano (1 tsp dried)
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil (I hold a stack of leaves and cut strips with scissors)
chopped walnuts
salt and pepper to taste

Set the water (or bouillion) boiling for rice
Chop onion and mince or crush garlic
Cook onion and garlic in large skillet in oil until transparent, or even browning a bit
Chop zucchini and tomatoes (I just cut my little maters in half)

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Add zucchini and oregano and cook until desired tenderness
Add tomatoes just to warm them up
Remove from heat and stir in parsley and basil
Serve over rice
Top with chopped walnuts as desired – I used about 2 Tbsp in my bowl because they are SO good.
Add more basil and parsley if it doesn’t have enough Ka-Pow.

This passed the 12 year old test, and the no leftovers test as well.  I will have to make more next time!

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If you don’t have any herbs in your garden, you might consider a few in pots in a sunny windowsill or on the porch, deck or balcony.  They are easy, generally don’t have many insect problems and add so much to food.  With some fresh herbs from the garden you can make incredible dishes and sauces like this Chimichurri from Little Sis

Enjoy the summer bounty of the best sweets of all – fruits and vegetables!

And if the situation calls for something sweeter – check out these sweets recipes:
Celebration Krispies

GF / DF apple pie with walnut crust

Brownie Bites

P.S.  Thanks to my wonderful Little Sis who has been blogging away while I finish my semester and get started on a project we’ve been discussing.  She is the best project partner evah!

Power Tabbouleh – and yes, it’s GF

Don’t know about you all, but here in Mid Maryland the weather is SPECTACULAR.  It feels like fall – the great part of fall when the humidity drops, the temps are still in the low 80s and the sky is bright blue and features fluffy white clouds.  Whoever loaned us their weather, I thank you and regret to inform you that we would like to keep it, thank you very much. I almost don’t care that the infant tomatoes that were emerging post deer invasion have also been eaten.  Shame on me for going out of town for 36 hours.  Apparently creating a urine barrier as deterrent is a daily requirement.

While the deer (or the squirrels, I don’t even care any more who the perp is anymore) were eating my tomatoes, we took a short trip to my hometown, Silver Spring, MD.  Mr. Little Sis had some work to tend to there over the weekend and we tagged along so we could do a little “get to know your Mom” touring. We returned thoroughly exhausted, in part from incredibly awesome park experiences, but mostly because the folks on the other side of our locked adjoining room door were reunioning with their family and a lot of bourbon until 4 in the morning.  I digress…

Our superb park experiences over the weekend inspired me to take the kids a little farther afield for some adventures today.  After swim class we played tag, restaurant (with robbers and everything, my children like exciting dining), and fed a whole mess of turtles in the quarry.  We found some bugs (and fed them to the fish – sorry bugs), watched some geese and played on some great playground equipment.  After leaving there and scoring a whole slew of deals on perennials at the hardware store, we all returned home pretty wiped out.  I decided it was time to give a summer standard from my past a go. Tired hungry kids are sometimes the most willing to try new foods.

IMG_9539Standard tabbouleh has tons of parsley (which is great for you in a variety of ways and covers a multitude of garlic breath sins), bulgur, tomatoes, garlic and some kind of acid mixed with olive oil.  Well… I hain’t got no maters, I say almost weeping.  Well, okay I have one that I plucked early before the real invasion began.  It was just coming ripe on the windowsill.  In honor of Mr. Bigg Sis and all those for whom gluten is verboten, I decided to make good use of the leftover quinoa in the fridge. Following Deborah Madison‘s lead (which is always a good idea), I combined green lentils and chickpeas to power that salad up even more.  Plenty of protein, fiber, and tons o’ flavor.  Yep, power tabbouleh.

Power Tabbouleh - adapted from Deborah Madison’s Bulgur and Green Lentil Salad with Chickpeas in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

  • 2 c chopped fresh parsleyIMG_9553
  • 2 c cooked quinoa (or whatever grain you have on hand)
  • 1 1/2 c cooked French lentils (I’m sure brown would be fine too, but I do like the green here)
  • 1 c cooked or canned garbanzo beans (drain and rinse if canned)
  • zest of two lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic, made very small however you like
  • 4 scallions or spring onions, chopped small, including some green
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • 6-8 T fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t paprika
  • salt and pepper to taste

IMG_9543Looks like a lot of ingredients, but this was so ridiculously easy – one of those times where having some leftover cooked grains in the fridge makes dinner a snap.  I cooked my lentils specifically for this meal as I didn’t have any in the fridge.  I cooked two cups of French lentils in boiling water with a bit of salt and a bay leaf.  I can’t recommend this bay leaf maneuver enough – made the beans so flavorful and delish.  I had way more than I needed for the salad, but I knew my little lentil fan (Miss Picky Pants – you go figure that out) would want some plain.

IMG_9544While the lentils cooked I did all of my chopping and combined all of the cold solid ingredients.  I drained the lentils and let them cool for about half an hour. You could absolutely make this warm, but I was going for room temp or cooler. When I was done assembling a green salad and making dressing, I added the lentils to the other ingredients, combined the lemon juice, oil and paprika and poured it on.  Tossed everything to mix.  Salted and peppered to taste.  Lovely. Then I chopped my sole tomato and added it.  The added tomato was nice, but honestly, unnecessary (blasphemy). This salad knocked my socks off and is super flexible.  What do you like in your tabbouleh? As for me, beans are where it’s at.

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Daggone Bambi. Get Out Of My Patch!

IMG_9504So I thought I had her licked, and then I forgot. I completely FORGOT the first rule of varmint repelling.  NEVER assume that the one method you’ve been using will continue to work.  As much as they found that measure compelling at first, one day, one of those critters figures your crap out.  And then know what happens? Well, I’ll tell you.  As soon as that rogue deer figures out that the Ivory soap hanging all around the garden just smells bad, but won’t actually hurt them, you will come out to find that EVERY SINGLE ONE of the green tomatoes you’ve been eyeing with glee will be gone. And it won’t just be the tomatoes, it will be the branch the tomato was on.

And while she’s in there she’ll knock off a few branches of happily producing pepper plants. THEN she’ll eat some more of the strawberry plants that stopped producing a while ago, walk all through the bit you’ve been preparing for planting, rough up the cucumber plants, and step on the potatoes on her way out the other side.  Bulls in china shops got nothing on the deer.

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So, I went commercial.  I got some critter repellent to scatter that smells weird.  I sprinkled it heavily around the periphery of the garden. The soap is still out there, just in case that continues to be convincing to any of these giant pests. Tomorrow I intend to apply the age old, totally free, and at least effective for rabbits remedy.  Bigg Sis and I don’t share this information with just anybody… but seems to me that the good of the garden is a worthy cause, so I’ll tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna pee in a jar.

Yep, that’s what I said. I’m gonna pee in a jar and then pour it around the periphery of the garden. Yep, pee. And no, I’m not going to pour it on the garden itself or the veggies, so you don’t have to be icked out. I am going to find out if the trick that has ALWAYS worked for rabbits will do anything about these daggone deer. If my own supply proves inadequate, I guess I’ll have to buy some of the stuff with the gosh awful coyote pee everybody uses to protect their flowers around here… enjoying the garden, except for that heinous smell.  I’m trying not to be discouraged. I really am, but it’s hard.

A Maryland garden is empty without tomatoes and I’m on year 4 of looking like I might not get any for one reason or another. I talk it over with people who know what they’re doing, my garden guru at the garden center, I read, and my plants do great. And then SOMETHING goes wrong.  A few years ago the squirrels stole just about everything. The last two years stinkbugs did the plants in. This year things were looking pretty good, and then she came. And I’ve had to share (and by share I mean I get nothing). When I share from my garden, I like it to be because of my bounty, not because my repellent measures have become obsolete.

I will remember the first rule of critter control. I will stop assuming anything is working and just introduce new stinks every two weeks and see how that goes.  As for my long term plans, I think we’d darn well better have a dog by next sumer or I’m buying all my tomatoes at the farmers’ market. Soap, egg solids, pee… whatever, none of it works like a dog who really likes to chase deer. Miss you little buddy.

Baby Step 13: Saving on Produce

BabyStep13Last Baby Step we talked about taking a look at what we really spend on food – including all those last minute purchases and take out bits. Today I want to focus on saving money on some of the healthiest food around, produce. Saving on produce tends to fall into two basic categories: 1) spending less and 2) using more (or wasting less if you’re into complete grammatical parallels). Both approaches are obviously valid, but the greatest savings (and satisfaction if you’re a cheap freak like me) comes from employing methods from both categories to maximize the nutrish for the dinero, moolah, green, whatev.

Some of these are obvious, but if you’re anything like me you tend to get real good about focusing on one and then forget some of the others. Let’s run through the possibilities. Healthy food, which for most folks means adding more produce, is affordable because  it satisfies you and prevents spending money on chronic illness. Healthy food is more affordable if you get good at finding it cheap and using it all. Continue reading