Side Garden



I woke up early yesterday morning. I’d like to say it was the rays of a new day on a bright, sunshiny dawn peeking through the curtains and warming my face that did it, but, the truth is, I had to pee.  It was kind of drizzly and grey out actually – not a good hair day. After the bathroom, I put a bathrobe on, slipped on a pair of flip flops and went to the Chef’s Garden to pick some strawberries.

I have been hitting traffic every morning and so have been leaving earlier and earlier each day – taking away my favorite garden time. I’ve also been working late each night, so, alas, poor garden has been neglected by me. It is overgrown with weeds (or are they beets, carrots and parsnips? See here for more on that) and I figured there were a few strawberries I could pick before heading to work.

I guess there were a few strawberries! There were  over 100! Some did have slugs on them, but the DE we’ve been using really seemed to do the trick, I think, because last year, every one of them would have been munched on by a slug when I picked it. These are beautiful, right? Then why am I like, “Shit!” instead of “Hooray?”  Well, lately, we’ve discovered that Keith has an allergy to strawberries. He gets a rash if he touches them. That means that these strawberries are not going to magically turn into jam some day while my back is turned (he does that, I’ll pick up ingredients and then come home late from work to a freeking masterpiece that he just “made up!”) My sister is coming over to visit this afternoon and she’s staying until tomorrow. I’ll wash them up and I guess we’ll just pick at them as snacks while I kick her ass in a game of WAR.

The parsley has gone to flower already. Not a big deal, we don’t use parsley that much, I still have an entire ziploc bag of dried, crushed parsley from last season. (If you do not know about my hoarding habit, you must start at the beginning of this blog and catch up, I have quite a penchant for stocking up.) After picking the strawberries and bringing them in the house (still in a nightgown, bathrobe and flipflops I might add), I went back out with a pair of scissors to cut the parsley flower stems and found this creepy crawly visitor. That is about actual size.

 Oh, and 6 of his brothers, all hanging out on different stems of the parsley. I don’t know what it is, but I can bet they were eating the plant. Great. We have another problem, I don’t squish bugs. I don’t. It’s gross (insert involuntary shudder here). It goes back to my childhood days in New Jersey where we had these fat, black crickets, (not those skinny green ones, these were very fat). They would get into the house and chirp and chirp and chirp. Well, one day, I squished one with my bare foot. I didn’t mean to, but it was in my shoe. There was white bug goo mixed with black bug legs and uck in between my toes. (Insert involuntary GAG right here and throw in an involuntary sphincter clench for good measure, that is how fresh and how gross the memory of this is with me.)

So, needless to say, I do not squish bugs. That is a problem. If you don’t kill them, they’ll come back. So, what did I do with these 7 caterpillers? I cut the branch of the plant off, carefully carried the branch with said bug still hanging on, over the the compost pile and threw them down the hill into the pile. I then looked the other way and did that 6 more times.

Ok, all you gardener followers are shaking your head at me, while my non-gardener followers, especially those of you with a low creepy-thing-tolerance are thinking that sounds like a good plan. Well, I am not naive.  I know these things will 1) come back and 2) lay eggs which means 3) make more. Guh. I started looking through the “Insectipedia” to figure out what it was and how to kill it organically, but the site is listed alphabetically by name of bug, so I had to open the link to each bug to see if it was the right one. Yah, that isn’t happening, ewww. So, if I see another, I’m going to drown it in something. Or, maybe I’ll put it on a rock and then, from a distance so I don’t hear the squish, I’ll throw big rocks at it until I think I got it. Gross, I am so skeeved right now, I have to change the subject. If anyone knows how to kill it without a squish, please do let me know. Moving on…

After moving said buggies into their new home to happily munch away on my discarded food scraps (THAT’s the solution, keep feeding them, Jenn! Shut up.) I decided to head out back to check on the tomatoes and husk cherries. Keith had mentioned that some husk cherries had ripened (almost a month early, thanks to starting them indoors early! Look at us!) and he had eaten a few, so I wanted to see how far along things had progressed back there. As I head down the side hill toward the back yard, something moved in the distance. (It’s a small yard, it wasn’t too distant, it was basically at the back of our property, but I’m building suspense, work with me here.) Just beyond the trees something very large was definitely moving. Thankfully, it was moving away from me. Now, remember, my wildlife interactions usually happen when I am poorly dressed and today was no different. How am I going to outrun a vicious coyote or a rabid raccoon in flip flops I ask you? I wrapped by bathrobe tighter, and crept in closer with a strong predatory instinct, playing with danger because that’s the kind of girl I am – brave, bold, MIGHTY! (It was still a bathrobe, but it may as well have been a cape, really. I think I will knit myself one. My friend bought me a kit for superhero goggles, perhaps I will make those up and have them at the ready next time.)

The beast still rustled through the woods. It was large, I could tell it was as tall as my waist. It made no noise except for the sound of the earth and twigs being crushed under it’s weight. I just couldn’t see what it was. The hair on the back of my neck raised up in tense alert. Danger was only feet away. (Where’s my gun? (Read here) Oh right…)

Then I heard it, “BABE!”  The good neighbor was walking through from his yard calling for Babe, his pig who had gotten out of the barn. It was Babe the pig, cute Babe, the piggie I had fed kitchen scraps and scratched behind the ears. Babe was in the backyard. Of course. “He’s over here, I yelled.” Making sure the bathrobe was cinched (greeting a neighbor is not the time to have wardrobe malfunctions), I met him at the back of our property and pointed to where I had last seen Babe. “Do you have a rope? How are you going to get him home?” I asked, memories of using Daisy’s leash as a lasso the last time Babe got out. (My niece and I chased this same pig, much smaller a few years ago, across the street and up the hill, trying to keep him from getting onto the main street. We finally caught up to him and looped Daisy’s leash around his neck and kind of led/trotted him back to his barn.)  “Food,” he answered, holding up something from a take-out box.

I told you he wasn’t a small pig! We tried to gently convince the Good Neighbor, when Babe was still young, to have our friend Popper (www.poppers-sausage-kitchen.com) take care of him when it came time. He looked at us in horror, Babe had already become a pet. I understand, he is all cute and cuddly in that, “Please don’t step on my toe or you’ll crush it” sort of way.

Anyway, who knows how far Babe might have gotten without my keen senses and predatory instinct. Now, if only I could be that brave around bugs.


My strawberry haiku…ahem…

Oh sweet strawberry

Luscious red, your hidden fruit

That sounded dirty

First of the Season!

 Our first strawberries of the season ripened just in time for Memorial Day weekend. The strawberry patch is in a little square in the middle of the Chef’s Garden on the side of our house. You can see they’re just spilling out into the path. I like how they start out white and, with a little time in the sun, they turn red (like me, I guess.) Most of them end up hidden underneath the leaves, taking their own sweet time to ripen.

They smell so good. You know, I haven’t tried one yet. You’d think I’d taste-test just one, but I’m trying to gather enough to put in my breakfast yogurt. I expect they’ll be delicious. They’ve been through a lot. Someone else loved these strawberry plants before me.  When we bought the house, I had to move them, then we had to move them again, then they sat in pots getting knocked over by pigs (the neighbor’s pig got loose a few times) for a year while we built our deck. Now they’re happily blooming in their second year in the little garden next to the house. The garden Keith built for us. With love.
So it got me thinking.  These little strawberries-that-could have been shoved around, knocked over, ignored, eaten by slugs, snuffled by a pig…basically lived a hard-luck life. Now they’ve finally gotten into their groove, moved to a place that feels good and made themselves at home. They’re getting some love and you can tell they’re happy. Like me.
They’re not fruit, they’re soul food.

My lettuce haiku…ahem…

Live long, lettuce leaves

We happily crunch salads

Made with love from thee

Our lettuce bed is looking great. In the past, I’ve always bought lettuce six-packs and planted them. I can’t recall how long it took them to bolt (non-gardening fans of the Patch – that is when the plant flowers and the leaves usually lose their flavor),  so now that I’m starting from seed, I figure I’ll just keep planting seeds every few weeks until I run out.  This year, however, I’ll pay attention to when it is no longer, “lettuce season” so I know what to expect next year.

We had a delish salad last night. Granted, with grocery store tomatoes (although ours aren’t far off!) but still! Slivers of parm cheese fresh off the block and some balsamic, it was nummy. Spinach, Mache, Arugula, Red Salad Bowl, Drunken Woman, Bibb.

There is one problem with freshly grown baby lettuce and greens. I planted the seeds very tightly and am thinning them to eat, leaving some to grow bigger. I pull them, roots and all, which is the goal, but a bunch of dirt comes up too. So I have 1/2 a bowl of lettuce and 1/2 a bowl of dirt. Rinsing them in our sink results in grit and sand in the disposal. Not good. Last night, I put a paper towel over the disposal, but I need to come up with a better plan. Rinse them outside perhaps? Any ideas would be welcome.

*

I’ve been reading a book called The Four Season Harvest by Eliot Coleman.

Hey, look, he’s wearing mucks!

This is going to be my bible, I can tell. The basic premise is, you can grow veggies in the Winter, you just need to find ones that like the cold. That’s fine, but I live in NEW HAMPSHIRE. It gets pretty cold here. I’m wearing a sweater right now and it’ll be June in 5 days. I bought it, though, because the author, Mr. Coleman, lives in Maine. Sweet. Maine is definitely colder than here. He describes cold frames, root cellars, greenhouse growing, etc. I am sure I’ll be mentioning this book in the future. I bring it up at this point because he starts salad greens in the Fall and harvests them all Winter long. THAT is what I want the greenhouse for.

*

Meanwhile, the strawberry flowers are crazy. When we first moved into this house, there was a small strawberry patch. I moved over 100 strawberry plants to a bigger patch to the side of the steps to the back deck. Slugs love strawberries, the little bastards, so we usually got only a few that didn’t have holes. When we rebuilt the deck a few years ago, the patch had to come up. I put the strawberries in pots just to be able to save them. Last year, when Keith and his brother built the Chef’s Garden (formerly the Side Garden and, for a brief, yet shining moment, Peber’s Point), Keith put in a section for the strawberries. They outgrew it already.

Last year, the strawberries did well. I would pick them every morning in June and early July on my way to the DJ (day job), sometimes eating the clean ones in the car, rinsing the rest went I got there and eating them with yogurt for breakfast. Seriously, what could be better? They were so good. If you do not have a strawberry plant, get one. I mean it. Grocery store strawberries, all big and heart-shaped have just NO flavor.  They are picked too early in order to make the trip to the store. Also, I firmly believe as do some other gardeners (I read as many garden blogs as I can! I want visitors, I need to be one too!), that the bigger the fruit or vegetable, the less flavor it has. (You know all those contest-winning veggies? They’ve been fertilized beyond the point of good flavor!) Anyway, ours are small/mid-sized and really fantastic. I have NO idea what variety…we inherited them.

Well, this year, the plants are spilling out of their bed, and they’re super “fluffy” is the only way I can describe them. I have a pot with flowers in the middle of the bed and the strawberry plants have pretty much engulfed it. I shouldn’t have bothered putting the flowers in.  So, as I sit here with growling tummy, I fantasize (well, “think fondly of,” “fantasize” might be a little melodramatic!)  of strawberry spinach salad.

Strawberry Spinach Salad

Baby spinach leaves, washed and spun; Fresh strawberries, sliced; Orange segments, cut into bite-sized pieces

Mix together

Dressing: Stir 1 tbsp dijon mustard with 3 tbsp honey, about 4 -5 tbsp balsamic vinegar, about 1/4 cup evoo, pinch of kosher salt and pinch of paprika. (Those measurements might need to be adjusted, I don’t measure. Basically, it is thick and dark. It should pour like pancake syrup). Put the dressing on last as it’ll make the salad soggy. Sprinkle with crushed cashews.

Enjoy!


I am so full that I had to change into sweatpants. Tonight’s dinner: Burgers with beef from Normanton Farm. Each burger had a slice of Cabot cheese and bacon from Popper (if you haven’t checked out Popper’s Sausage Kitchen, you MUST!)  Topped with some of our Arugula and lettuce and Appledore Cove’s Chipotle Lime Ketchup. Num num. Local (well sort of, Vermont isn’t within 50 miles). Oh, and the bun was from Nissen bakeries – also New England. Hey, check us out, Barbara Kingsolver!

So what the hell? It is mid-May. I know, I know, my parents always told customers to not plant anything until Mother’s Day. Well, that was last weekend and we’ve had some 34 degree nights and lost a few seedlings in the Chef’s Garden to the frost. We’ve been shmucking (shlepping + mucking) the tender plants into the basement in the evening and out to the greenhouse in the morning in order to try to protect them (yes, before and after the DJ-Day Job).

As you can see, things are getting quite big.

I left control plants of peppers, basil and a husk cherry in the greenhouse to see how they fared each night. We did well – a few ruined leaves, but the flowers hung in there. Whew. So, it hit 34 degrees again last night and everything did fine. I buttoned the house up, putting blankets in the doors where there’s an air gap and we haven’t lost one thing. As a matter of fact, we have flowers.

See the little husk cherry already forming?

Buds on a tomato plant.

The lettuce and arugula are doing well in the Chef’s Garden. The bean sprouts are pretty dead, however, and the edamame was hit by frost so badly, it looks like it was regurgitated. The onion, planted a few weeks ago, seems to not have changed a bit. I know I’m impatient.

It’s just that I am anxious to get everything planted outside. It’s strange, actually, how often I think about our little Patch during the day. I ordered business cards with our logo (Daisy in the daisies) and somehow find a reason, just about daily, to force them on someone – usually some unsuspecting non-gardener who probably couldn’t give a crap but says, “Really?” and so, sounded interested. Poor soul. Here’s our card.

This is a good place to thank my wonderful non-gardening friends for their readership and support. I am sure that reading about slugs, worms, bat shit and tomato (ooh, just pulled a “Dan Quayle” by spelling that with an “e” at the end. At least I was smart enough to delete it. The snotty-spelling-bee-kid in me was just completely disgusted with myself for that) flowers must bore them to tears, but they (thankfully!) read my posts and comment with gusto.

The Gig Girl who quit her, “full-time-full-salaried-full-benefits-with-a-big-girl-office-and-even-a-window job” to be a stay-at-home Mom and is exploring home-based income opportunities in the process (with much humor and wit!) and Gillis Marketing who jumped with both feet and no swimmies into the world of SMM (no, silly, Social Media Marketing) where she tries to educate (dare I say, ‘enlighten”) others in the process. Here’s what she says, “Join me as I learn, communicate and educate my colleagues to use these tools. Join in the discussion… Consider this your therapy, your reality check, your informational portal. I feel pain – you may feel it, too.” Both very bright women who know their stuff.

Tonight’s lesson kids? Eat local, shop local and read local. You’ll feel better about your food and possibly support your sweatpant-wearing neighbors in the process.


It feels warm. It feels like SPRING. We are anxious to get the 250+ plants in the ground. Folks, these are not seedlings, these pots range in size from 4inches to 1 gallon and our tallest tomato plant is already 3.5 feet tall, tied to bamboo stakes.

We moved them all outside into the greenhouse. With typical New England Spring moodiness, Mother Nature has given us 73 and 48 degree days, back to back. So, greenhouse sides have been up and down more often than that guy and that dog on the YouTube video.

So, now we’re debating. Things look very GREEN outside, but we’re expecting 38 degree nights early next week. Do we plant or keep them in the greenhouse for another week? I think we’ll keep them in the house. The problem is, they’re tipping over and many of them need to be repotted. Grumble. I was hoping to avoid that.

 At least the big ole grow light in the basement is off. I mean, it was on a timer, but that baby had been going since February. I went outside and watched the electricity meter turn as flashes of that scene in Christmas Vacation went through my head. It was slow, but there it was – spinning up the bill. So much for going off the grid. Hopefully we’ll figure out this greenhouse thing and be able to start plants in there next winter. You know, use Mother Nature and all…

Dinner tonight…beef shanks, herbed wild rice with our garlic chives and parsley and a yummy little salad with feta cheese and lettuce/arugula seedlings I thinned from the Chef’s Garden. Yum.

Oh, by the way, this video (click here) just made me cry. I am such a sap.


Often, when Keith asks me what I’ve been up to, my response is, “Puttering.” That is my word for little errands. I have a tough time sitting still. That is why, when my friend introduced me to knitting, I felt like I had found the perfect indoor hobby for me (see her web page here – great resource for all things knitting as well as a fun hub for blogs she likes – The Daisy Patch has made it to this esteemed list!) But, this post isn’t about knitting.

I woke up yesterday morning at around 7 and set about Puttering. I donned the new mucks, went to the basement, checked on everything. Sadly, the Edamame does NOT look good. I think it missed a day of watering. So, I decided to plant some more seeds. I planted more Edamame, beans and some flowers. I watered the plants in the basement and then brought them outside to harden off on the eastern side of the house.

Hardening off gradually exposes seedlings to the elements to toughen them up a bit – wind, sun, rain, temperature fluctuations. On the eastern side of the house, they were exposed to a breeze and the warm morning sun, then, as the sun moved, it would get a little cooler. Good conditions.

I planted more lettuce, mache, arugula and spinach seeds in the Cook’s Garden (new name for the Side Garden/Kitchen Garden/Peber’s Point). These little guys are three weeks old. Succession planting is important because we’ll constantly have seedlings coming up and plants growing to replace the ones we harvest. As I’ve mentioned before, I have been dreaming of fresh lettuces from the garden and am going to town on planting a lot of salad greens.

Arugula microgreens

You might recall from Togethergoal, the tray of Arugula microgreens failed, so we didn’t have a chance to try them. I tried it yesterday. Yummy! Nice and peppery. Keith is going to make some Beef Carpaccio tonight and we’ll put some microgreens on it. I think that’ll be really good.

Drunken Woman lettuce.

I read about Drunken Woman lettuce in the seed catalog. We have loved every red speckled lettuce variety we’ve tried so I decided to order some. Besides, the name itself belongs in our garden. Here’s a link to someone’s blog describing this lettuce. I thought it was a nice post and the picture is great. Now that I see it in full splendor – 1) Yay! I can’t wait! and 2) Crap, I’ll have to thin it. That’s ok, lettuce seedlings are great in a salad.

What else did I do during my puttering? I watered the garlic. We ordered 3 different varieties of garlic last Fall and I took up the entire 12’x3′ bed in the Cook’s Garden to plant them. They look great.

Garlic

I can’t wait until we get scapes. Garlic Scapes are the shoot of a hard neck garlic variety. Here’s a better description and a small ode to the scape. The scapes end up in the saute pan or in pesto. Yumzy. Small concern – I have no idea if these are the varieties that send up scapes. We shall see. I hope so.

Back to the putter session. I weeded our small strawberry patch.

I put flowers in that pot last year and just decided this Spring to add the trellis. I think I’ll put a flowering climbing plant on it for some color. Gardener followers of the Patch – if you have any ideas, do share. Nasturtium?

I also visited our flowers. At the beginning of this post, I put some pictures of dwarf early tulips in the sun. This color is so different – it isn’t orange or peach, it is this wonderful translucent tangerine. Love these tulips.

Bleeding Heart

I watered the bean pot (you know, pot full of bean seeds and a trellis just waiting to support them) and then headed to the backyard. There, the mound of screened topsoil (4 cubic yards – more like a small mountain!) and the empty raised beds Keith built just looked at me.

You see, they weren’t in close proximity to each other. The delivery guy couldn’t go into our yard very far to dump the soil due to the wet weather we had been having. If he went very far, he might not have been able to get out of the mud. The first one (dirt) had to get into the second one (planter beds) somehow. That somehow was us.

Again, since we are basically weekend warriors, the soil pile just sat there during the week, getting rained on. So, I grabbed the shovel and started loading.

It has only been a month since gall bladder surgery and I was warned, “No heavy lifting for 6 weeks!” so at first, when talking about Mt. Dirt Everest, the plan was that I would load the wheelbarrel while Keith finished building the supports in the garden beds, and then I’d call him over to bring the wheelbarrow to the beds, then I’d unload with the shovel.

But he was inside and I was in Putter-mode, so I figured I’d start small – little 1/2 wheelbarrows. Fill with the shovel, bring the wheelbarrow to the garden bed, unload with the shovel. I did this a few times and then got the guts to lift the wheelbarrow to dump the soil into the bed. No pain, no ripped stitches or anything. Let’s go.

Muck, muck, muck, shovel, shovel, shovel, LIFT!, muck, muck, muck, HEAVE HO! Rinse and repeat. After 5 of these trips, Keith came outside and asked, “Whatcha been up to?” Puttering, my usual response. I went in, changed to tank top and shorts, (sassy look with mucks may I just tell you?), put the hair up, bandana on and grabbed a bottle of water.

As he drilled in the braces on the rest of the beds, I continued my attack on Mt. Dirt Everest. Every once in a while, we’d say something to each other, but it was mostly quiet work. He asked me if I thought I’d finish filling the beds today. “That’s the goal – it is supposed to rain tomorrow,” was my response.

When he finished, he grabbed a shovel and helped. We took turns. The loads I carried were 1/2 to 3/4 full and his were full. We took a few breaks during the day, heading inside for some water, choosing to skip lunch. It was good, satisfying team work. Once, I did hit his shovel with my shovel, sending shockwaves and a stab of pain into his shoulder for which I felt horrible and apologized profusely, but mostly, we worked in silence, tackling this togethergoal with determination. You know, like farmers who have to get the soil moved before a rainstorm turns it to mud? Like that.

It took us about 4.5 hours and who knows how many trips back and forth. I stopped counting. When we were done, we headed to the front yard , where Keith sat on the front steps and we talked a bit while I pulled some weeds under the lilac. There were a few more errands we wanted to do, hooking up hoses, weeding, spreading bark mulch – then I said the magic words, “We worked pretty hard today, let’s go get some lunch.”

It has become a ritual for us to finish up a particularly tough day of yard work at Margarita’s. I call it the “Board Room” because it seems all our planning happens over a glass of their Original on the rocks.

When we got home around 6:30, it was time for a nap. A full day of yard work and sunshine with 2 margaritas for dessert made me just want to lie down. So much for napping, I woke up this morning at 7 and feel sore as hell. Really sore as hell. I snuggled up to Keith and asked how he was. Sore as hell. I told him how great I thought yesterday was – we worked really hard, got a lot done, worked side by side, and ended the day with a nice time at the bar.

The only way to get the soreness out of your muscles is to use them, so I was back, mucking and puttering by 7:15. Now, to tackle those weeds and the rest of Mt. Bark Mulch before the rain comes.


I had mentioned in It Ain’t Easy Being Green-House that I would tell you more about tomatoes. Keith had a fantastic tomato crop last year. Well, more than fantastic – he had 2 harvests. Here’s how it happened. He started them under lights in the basement. In January. Yellow Pear tomatoes, Sweet Baby Cherry, Marmande (heirloom) and Plum.

By the time it was ready to move them out in May, we had been eating yellow pear tomatoes from the 8-foot high basement tomato vines. They were in gallon pots and were staked to anything he could find.

Smart guy that he is, Keith cut them down, leaving the roots and about 1 foot of stem and that’s what I planted outside in, what was then, our new garden. They grew up nice and strong and we harvested many, many during the season.

One day's harvest, September 2009

 Here’s what’s growing today!

Basil = pesto = love

Peppers

More Peppers

I just asked Keith to remind me what seeds we ordered yesterday.  Here’s how it went down.

K: Your edamame, some spinach and arugula and Jamaican bat guano. Me: Wait, what? You got what?  K: Guano – bat shit. Me: I thought you were just getting seeds. K: It’s good fertilizer.

All I can do is laugh. God, he just cracks me up. So, we have worms in the basement and shit in the mail. This adventure is getting crazier by the minute. Hang on for the ride.

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