January 2010

I need inspiration! It is grey out. Granted, it is 7AM on a January Saturday morning, it is allowed to be grey, but I just want to growl. Not a,  “Who’s at the door?” growl or, “That’s MY food dish” growl, just one of those low in the throat, grumpy growls that, when someone else hears it, they know EXACTLY how you feel. Grey, grumpy, GROWLY.


Just opening!

I bought this Amaryllis on sale after Christmas.  $5. It has no leaves, just a funny, phallic 23 inch-tall stem with buds at the top that just started to open. This pretty flower blooming in front of a window that only shows grey beyond it will have to be my inspiration to trudge through what I think it the most annoying part of the gardening life cycle – starting seeds. I’d rather weed.

You would think that the miracle of adding water to a little speck and ending up with a tomato or a zucchini or, yum, Husk Cherries (more on those later!) would awe and excite me. NOPE. Hate it. If every speck became a plant, I’d love it, but the stress of seeing the pan of dirt STAY a pan of dirt without so much as, “Nope, Jenn, no plants here, move along” really makes me irritated. I am impatient. I know this about myself, my loved ones definitely know this about me. A trait gardeners need to have is patience. You can’t rush an heirloom tomato that matures in 70-80 days or else you’re eating it green. Patience is a virtue, blah blah blah. Whatever.

Husk Cherries (physalis), also named Ground Cherries, Cape Gooseberries, Husk Tomatoes, and Pineapple Tomatillos are a supreme test of my patience.

Husk Cherries

We discovered these little babies when we joined a CSA 2 Summers ago. It run by a young couple who were leasing the land from an organic farmer. We signed up for 1/2 share, suggested for a family of 2 non-vegetarians. Every Friday, either Keith or I would pick up our veggies in the shed at the CSA (Community Supported Agrigulture.) There would be a sign saying what our share was for the week like, 2 pounds tomatoes, 2 bunches Kale, 1 bunch Swiss Chard, 2 cucumbers, etc. I could also pick flowers, herbs and, when indicated on a sign in the shed, head down into the gardens for the PYO. Sometimes PYO (pick-your-own) consisted of  green beans, cherry tomatoes, or arugula. One day, while picking greenbeans and doing some weeding of the bed (encouraged if you were a “GOOD” CSA member, which I surely wanted to be!), the husband of the couple who ran the CSA was a few garden beds past me and said, “Ooh, the Husk Cherries are starting to ripen! Love these.”  I asked him what he was talking about and he picked one for me. He told me to take the husk off (no -brainer, didn’t look edible) and just eat it.

I am not a huge fan of eating tomatoes off the vine. I like tomatoes, don’t get me wrong. Put them with something else like mozzarella and proscuitto and some olive oil, I am all about the tomato, but eating off the vine not so much. It was yellowish-tan. It looked sour. I put it in my mouth with major trepidation, internally cringing at the thought that when I bit down, this little berry or whatever it was, was going to burst ickiness and sourness in my mouth. Shudder.

I love good surprises. It was so good.  The flavor was a combination of sweet cream butter, strawberry and tomato. Or maybe pineapple, strawberry and tomato. I brought as many home as I could pick. Keith loved  them too. Put them in an Arugula salad with toasted pine nuts and fresh goat cheese and you’re in for a treat.  For the rest of the season, every Friday, I picked as many as I could to bring home. We shared with friends and co-workers – apparently, we weren’t the only ones who had never heard these little guys.

It has been a while since I added a picture to this post, so here is one of Daisy and Peber at their best.

Now, if you’re judging me for having only 1/2 share in the CSA and picking as many ripe Husk Cherries as I could find every week, hear me out. I have a perfectly good explanation for hoarding the Husk Cherries (ooh, there is that word again, perhaps I do have a problem.) This was only the CSA’s second year. This was our first ever with a CSA, but I had done some research online. It seemed that our choice, although close to home, didn’t have as many varieties of veggies as other places did. We ended up calling it the “Kale Cult.”  Every week, the share offered Kale. Big bunches of Kale. I tried every which way to cook the stuff. Sauteed and smothered in butter, wilted with garlic and butter, steamed with parmesan cheese, in chicken noodle soup, you name it, we tried it. We did not like it. We ended up leaving bunches of Kale on the table every week. There was so much Kale and Swiss Chard (also inedible we think) that we sort of felt that it was ok to take extra Husk Cherries if we were leaving our share of the bitter greens behind for someone else to take. Give and take, you know? We decided not to join the Kale Cult last Summer and decided to grow our own – grow things we liked. Keith thinks this was the beginning of our “Fend for Ourselves” dream.

Keith found Husk Cherry seeds online last Winter and bought a packet.  They took FOREVER to germinate under grow lights in the basement. Sheesh. When they went outside in the Side Garden (calling it Peber’s Point is starting to grow in me. Nice job, Will C! The board of directors for The Daisy Patch will vote this weekend on the new name) they were very small. Miniscule, like a 2-inch stem with 2 leaves on top. Then, in the ground, they took MORE FOREVER to do something, like,  uh, grow. We did get many Husk Cherries off the three plants eventually (enough for Keith to include some in jam he made), but I wish the growing season were longer because, no matter how much I covered them, we lost a lot to the first freeze. Waah!

Patience will be my new mantra. We just ordered the seeds along with several varieties of tomatoes, lettuce and potatoes and we’ll plant them in the basement under the grow lights, next to Keith’s hot peppers just as soon as they arrive. I just wish they’d hurry up.

Picture of Husk Cherry from here: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page

We’ve recently had a few storms and my lettuce dreams are under blanket of snow.

Snowy Side Garden


Yeah. Since last year was the first year we had a fenced in vegetable garden (we always grew in pots on the porch), I have NO clue when I can start planting veggies. I read and read that cold-weather crops can be put out early, and we go to the Winter Farmers’ Market and buy lettuce and broccoli they’ve grown in the ground under plastic. In January. January. I want that. So, Keith has been looking at ways to build me low tunnels – plastic domes around the beds in the side garden. He is the sweetest, I say I want it, he tries to get it for me.  (By the way, I must come up with a more clever name than “Side garden”, that is just sooo boring. Suggestions welcome!) If we can get plastic up in the raised beds out there (slightly more visible in picture below, still buried under snow), then I think we can plant things sooner.

Cast Iron Thingy

Remember I mentioned the tall cast iron thingy that we picked up at the side of the road sale? There it is. That baby was covered in peas last year. I would pick the pea pods before leaving for work with the intent to save them as a snack for mid-day. Look at me everyone, I’m eating healthy at my desk! I’m eating pea pods I picked from my garden! I’d eat them on the way in to work and arrive with a plastic baggie of dew. So much for an afternoon snack.

I think I’m going to grow peas on it this year again, but my past edamame failure still haunts me and I think I’m up for the challenge to try growing them again. A few years ago, I bought edamame seeds and started them indoors. We ended up with three plants and put them in a window box on the front porch when it was safe. I watered and fussed. I couldn’t wait for steamed edamame with a pinch of salt. Love.

When it came to harvest time, I brought the edamame into the office to show my friends. So proud. My friend T was the one who first introduced me to edamame at a sushi restaurant near the office. Showing her my homegrown edamame was a big moment. Another co-worker came in during the conversation and, when T boasted about my edamame to her, she asked to see. I held it up. It. One. One damned little edamame pod with possibly two sickly little beans in there, maybe. T said, “That’s it, that’s the whole harvest.”  We laughed like hell. It is true. I got one little edamame that wasn’t even big enough to steam. Bastard. 

Wait, shouldn’t I love everything that we grow? Even if I couldn’t boast about it, and we couldn’t eat it, isn’t that little soybean still a result of tender care, water, seacoast sunlight and plans for bigger things? Was that little edamame-that-could a test and if so, what kind of test? Could I love something that didn’t live up to my standards? Could I learn from failure, say “Tally Ho” and keep trying?

I went back to my drab grey cubicle and filed the little piece-of-shit-edamame in the garbage pail with pissed off inspiration – pissed at the little soybean for sucking so badly, giving me hope and then flicking me in the forehead for being such a silly girl. 

Yes, edamame this year. No doubt.

Right off the bat, let me say that I am LOVING the title of this post.  It will make me happy for days, I think. (Oh, more than likely, I just committed copyright infringement and someone already thought of that title for something else and I’ll get a letter from a lawyer or some such. Let me say it now, I am sorry. I had no idea, I really think I thought of it myself, so have some mercy on me, let me have just have this one time thinking I am witty and creative. It means so much to me. Thank you.)

Keith and I bought a shiitake mushroom “kit” through Gardener’s Supply http://www.gardeners.com/  This kit consisted of what looks like a cube of hardened, moldy mashed potatoes and a plastic bag. I was skeptical.

Shiitake mushroom kit

Needless to say, we followed all the instructions which involved: Keeping in the dark, soaking in water, shrouding in vented plastic, keeping in sunlight, misting often…

I had no idea that, well, fungus needed attention. Doesn’t that sort of thing grow on its own? Anyway, we got about 12 mushrooms in the first “flush.” (Look at me using proper terms like I’ve been doing this a while! Maybe there is hope for me.) A few are still in the fridge. The “kit” is drying out now and we’ll soak it again this weekend for another bout. Kinda cool. I told people we grew our own mushrooms and I got sideways glances – from ALL of them. Yup, growing your own tomatoes and basil is one thing, but once you start saying you grow mushrooms, that just takes it to a whole new level.

I remember in junior high school, our teacher, hippie looking guy with long ZZ-TOP fuzzy beard and baggy pants belted with a big belt – you know, the pants were so big that the belt made weird gathers and gaps, he looked silly, I recall it to this day. Can’t remember his name, or what class he taught, I think science, but I remember how funny his big pants looked. Anyway, he told us he grew mushrooms in his basement and sold them to restaurants. I snickered along with the other kids at this weird teacher. Now, here I am, close to (ouch) 25 years later, and I’m thinking that maybe he had something there.

I hope we’re not in over our heads. In addition to the 30’x16′ raised bed garden Keith and his brother built us last year in the side yard, we came across a deal on a frame for a 24’x14’x12′ high tunnel. I think that is funny, “high tunnel” like we’re going to grow some illegal substance in it. My co-worker asked if we were going to build a trap door. Ah, no. To simplify and keep myself from giggling, I’ll just call it the greenhouse. Keith calls it, “Greenhouse #1.” Apparently we’re planning on more.

Keith and our best friend Roy have been chipping away at building and framing the greenhouse on decent days this Winter.  

Roy and Greenhouse #1

Roy working on the framing

More framing work

This was 2 days ago. Yesterday, Keith did more framing. Then, he broke his toe last night. Work might have to be on hold a bit until that heals up. He’s excited about the project, so I’m sure that while his foot is iced and elevated, he’ll be doing more research on the different options of plastic that we can put on it. Who knew there were so many different types of greenhouse plastic. Overwhelming (and boring as hell to me, I’ll let him figure that one out, he’s the engineer!)

Meanwhile, I dream of lettuce. Lots of lettuce. Speckled, ruffled, green, red, purple, loose-leaf, head, oak-leaf… I want lettuce year-round. We regrettably missed the Slow Food Boston  http://www.slowfoodboston.com/index.cfm  film and discussion about the Dervaes family.  This is what the invite said, “While living in downtown Pasadena, [they] grow over 6,000 lbs (yup, you read it right!) of produce. OK, so that seems amazing in and of itself. But consider this: they do it on less than a 1/4 acre.”  Very cool. We want that. I had not heard about them, but joined their Facebook Fan page and will be reading their blog. We really wanted to attend this, but with the broken toe and threat of a Nor’ Easter, we decided to stay home.

I planned on checking out the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange http://www.southernexposure.com/index.html today to start planning our order, but got distracted by deciding to finally clean and organize my side of the bathroom cabinets. I laughed it off a few years ago when Keith called me a hoarder because we discovered 24(!) tupperware containers of chicken and turkey broth in the freezer – homemade is better than store bought anyday. Seems I made them, but never used them. Today, I found 12 travel sized toothpastes, 4 containers of deoderant, and a squillion tampons. I mean, seriously, they were in every nook and cranny of the the under-the sink area plus the three drawers I call mine. There were all wrapped still, but there were no boxes or packages to be found. Perhaps there’s something to his diagnosis…

I woke up at 2:45 this morning with a crashing headache. Jill at the bar makes a mean Cosmopolitan.  I had 2. I couldn’t sleep, so after taking 3 ibuprofin, downing a full glass of water and eating 3 Fudge Stripes (necessary, you’re not supposed to take ibuprofin on an empty stomach!) went into Roy and Jen’s room (what we call our spare bedroom since they are the usual occupants). I tossed and turned there, my aching brain fighting me as I redesigned the side garden in my mind. I need more room for butternut squash. I planted three last year next to three zucchini plants and the butternut never came up- or so I thought. Once the zucchini was done, I pulled them up and tossed them into the brush pile over the fence and there was this WIMPY, yet very long vine growing underneath with the tiniest butternut squash hanging off the end. It was sickly looking and yellow and reminded me, well, of a deformed penis. (Well, it did. I’m supposed to use my true voice right?! Don’t judge.) I fertilized it and laid the vine across the vacant raised bed to give it maximum tanning time. Too late, it got cold and the little, special penisquash got very flaccid and then the slugs moved in the next day. Ick. I just shuddered, that picture obviously still haunts me.

The side garden is fenced in. It has 5 raised beds, a strawberry patch and a perfectly-placed decorative wrought-iron tower/crop-support/tall thingy that I grew the snap-peas on last year. Love that thing. We bought it at some random side-of-the-road wrought-iron sale about 5 years ago. Some guy in a truck pulled up a piece of field next to the gas station and just put out a whole buncha stuff like my tall-thingy, garden arches, and more. We bought that and a fan-shaped trellis.

Besides the butternut squash, I had a few other failures. (I keep saying, “I” because Keith was in charge of the tomatoes and they did awesome, I handled the choosing of the rest of the crops. More on the tomatoes in a later post.) Corn – nothing, well, not quite nothing, more like miniature renditions of corn. Little tassles, little kernels, growing just 4 inches tall, then drying up. Weird, slightly freaky children of the corn. Red onion from seed became little tiny purple marbles with green tops. I replanted them deeper this fall. We’ll see what happens. Tomatillos. That is a whole ‘nother story. I don’t recall ever eating a tomatillo, but I bought 6 seedlings. By the end of the season, we had HUNDREDS of tomatillos growing off these 8-foot high plants that were staked up like odd gangly scarecrows with little green lanterns hanging off every inch. Hundreds of IMMATURE tomatillos. Inedible. I shrouded then at night in landscape fabric during the first few frosts in an effort to prolong their lives and perhaps harvest one or two. I brought a few in and left them on the window sill, hoping something would happen. They were all lost. I’ll skip those this year. Broccoli was also a failure. I heard that wasn’t my fault though. The farmers at the farmers’ market said that the June rain caused their broccoli to fail. Whew. I loved that I had something else to blame besides my own ineptitude.

So, full circle to my first paragraph, I hope we’re not in over our heads. I can grow most flowers and herbs, but vegetables are fairly new to me and a little intimidating. We had enough success last year, the harvest outweighed the failures, so we’re going to forge on. I ordered stickers to go on mason jars that say, “From the Kitchen of Keith and Jenn.” The thought of a cabinet full of jars with those labels makes me happy.

I haven’t even talked about the garden we built last year (well, Keith and his brother built!) or the greenhouse we bought and started to install in the backyard this Winter. I’m stuck on the whole frikkin chicken issue. (Yes, it was as fun to write as it is to say!)

So, here’s the latest. Keith went to talk to Red. I love that I live in a town where the building inspector is known by his first name and, I think/hope, a nickname at that, and asked Red about chickens. Here’s the lowdown. There is NO town ordinance on owning Roosters. There is a rule about owning 4 animals. It didn’t say what kind of animals, just 4. So, Red suggested that we keep the flock (ooh, we don’t even have a coop yet and I’m talking “flock” now! Pick on me all you want, I’m excited about the idea) to 4 or under. The court case (mentioned in “Which came first, the rooster or the neighbor” https://daisypatch.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?action=edit&post=10 ) may cause ordinance to change, but not likely. So, 4 it is.

Our neighbor has chickens. I used to hear the roosters. Well, I think there are more than 1, I saw them fighting in the driveway this Summer, but who knows if they are both still there  with all the dogs, coyote, fishercats, fox, etc., around. I need to remember to ask Keith if he’s heard the roosters lately. Anyway, we didn’t call the town to complain about the noise. We had a party once and our friends ended up staking tents in the backyard to crash. They all complained about the roosters waking them up early the next morning. I  think the sun would have done it anyway and, quite honestly, we served enough beer the night before (hence the necessity for our friends to erect aforementioned tents), that the sound of the grass growing would have caused complaints the next morning. We made breakfast, I think my scones and some bacon slowed the complaints considerably. What is better than carbs and bacon for a hangover? Nothing I say, nothing.

Did I digress? No, still on chickens. So, if our neighbor has them, I suspect it shouldn’t be a problem for us to have them since, well, who’s gonna complain? Still dreaming of that ruffled apron mentioned in the last post, (yes, now the apron is ruffled) nestling warm eggs fresh from the roost as I carry them inside to make a souffle’.

Is this dream of a rural homestead be just that – a dream? I shudder to think that the picture in my head of me in my Crocs and jeans tucking blue specked eggs into a folded apron as cute little chickens coo around my feet will actually be me, still in pumps and suit from my day job, holding the little peckers at bay with one foot while shoving crap-covered eggs into my Coach handbag because I forgot the damned apron in the house.

We shall see. In the meanwhile, we’ll watch the rooster debate with one eye while poring over seed catalogs with the other.

We’re thinking about raising chickens. Thinking so much about raising chickens, in fact, that Keith has already started talking coop architecture with a handy friend of ours (you know who you are!)

Our neighbor (2 doors up) has chickens and they don’t seem to be much trouble. Last Summer, my niece and I saw a dog killing one of the chickens and Keith and the neighbor confronted the dog owner, I guess that is one of the down-sides.  Up-side – and I think this is a big up-side – EGGS! Fresh ones. If you have never cracked a fresh egg, and I will admit, even the fresh ones I’ve used were still at least 1 day old, you’re in for a treat. We want this.

Apparently, a few other people in my town do as well. Keith sent me an article today about a little legal scuffle in North Hampton that will directly impact our nesting (pun fully intended) dreams.  Here’s the article. http://bit.ly/5Igx4L

I love all the comments after the article – some get a bit nasty, as is bound to happen in social media with no editing, but some are spot on. I like this one from DF in Brentwood, “I hope he wins so I can sue the town due to mosquitos keeping me up at night during the summer!” Isn’t that true? The mosquitoes in this town (we have a lot of wetlands) are ferocious and since I’m really reactive to mosquito bites, the mosquitoes are really the one thing I am fearing the most about the backyard farm/homestead/garden/whatever-we’re-going-to-call-it. Enough about that, back to the roosters.

I find it fascinating that something like this goes in front of a judge in the first place. I didn’t say I was surprised, just fascinated. We’re going to watch this closely. In the meanwhile, I’ll dream of nestling freshly collected, still-warm eggs in the fold of my apron to the sounds of clucking hens (insert Disney-like heroine scene now complete with bluebirds tying the strands of that apron while bunnies hop around my feet) while the Fullerston/Marston and Cheever battle wages on.

Go Ms. Cheever.

Actually, I can’t really pinpoint how it all started. Perhaps our dream of growing our own food was sparked when we found our first apartment in Kittery. I hadn’t even moved in yet, (I was still in Vermont, more on that later), but I started window boxes of Basil on the tiniest, yet sunniest, porch ever.

Keith, not having much gardening experience besides his mother having a vegetable garden and his bachelor plant, a dracaena tree he bought at a department store, watered them during the week. When I came over on weekends, I pinched and preened our pre-pesto dreams until I moved in full time. I was unemployed and could give them my love while I looked for a job near my new home.

There were 6 basil plants. Keith’s friends, most new to me and I to them, complimented and praised our little apartment garden. He gave me the credit, although he tended to them too. He was so proud. They were HUGE! They loved the full sun on that back porch.  If I stood on my tippy-toes, I could see the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. When big boats went through the Memorial Bridge, they filled the entire view from that little porch. It was a tiny apartment with no room for personal space, but it was right on the water and we loved that about it.

The first harvest yielded 6 cups of basil and I made some pesto. I had never made it before and made a few rookie mistakes. I made it in the blender. Not a mistake, really, but my Cuisinart, an unaffordable luxury at the time, yields better results when I make it now. The other mistake was not toasting the pine nuts. I didn’t know. The recipe (found on the internet), didn’t tell me to. I almost never stray from recipes, and had never used pine nuts before (I remember thinking those babies were expensive!)

The pesto was delish. I’m not sure if it was the seacoast air and bright sunny days or just the pride we took that we grew the Basil ourselves that made it taste so good, but we loved it.

We’ve lived in our house, only 15 minutes away from that old apartment, for close to 9 years. We grew 3 varieties of Basil this past Summer, but I still look back to those first fragrant beauties on that little porch as the beginning of it all – of us, our love for good food and the plans we now are making to grow our own.