Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Project #229 – Terrarrium

Friday, September 11th, 2009

My husband really misses his ducks*, so I made a little terrarium scene with some mini replicas of our beloved Yama and Sabu. I wanted him to take it in to the office so he would have a little something green to look at during the winter.

Plus, nothing says love like a terrarium.

He is also a big fan of moss so I dug up a patch from the concrete on the side of our house and arranged it to fit in the jar. I had a bare spot, so I added a little clover plant, too. They are both from a super shady part of the yard, so they should both be kept out of direct sunlight.

The jar doesn’t drain, so I have a layer of gravel at the bottom to absorb excess water without completely removing it from the system. The soil is ordinary potting soil and the moss is just sitting on top.

Keeping the moisture equilibrium in the jar shouldn’t be hard. Just open the jar if the glass fogs up, and spritz it with water if the moss feels dry. Otherwise, the jar should be sealed.

*In case you missed it, the ducks moved back in with their breeder because duck quacks do, in fact, echo, especially at 6 am on a Saturday. Just in case you’re worried, the breeder does not eat birds.

Project #200 – Garden Dinner

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

Every year that I’ve had a garden I’ve thrown some sort of a dinner party so that my friends could have an opportunity to share in the bounty. The first year, I was just able to contribute herbs for omelettes, but this year I’m trying to make most of the dishes with 50% or more ingredients from the yard.

We made chilled cucumber soup, bruschetta, scalloped tomatoes and grilled chicken (with garden herbs).

The chilled cucumber soup, sadly, was not a hit. I think most Americans aren’t very familiar with chilled soups (myself included), and it feels a little odd to be gulping down a bowl of vegetables and cream. I desperately wanted to find a carrot of bag of chips to dip into my soup instead of drinking it. I usually love Martha Stewart Recipes, but this is one I probably won’t be making again.

Still, it was satisfying to harvest two 1/2 cup measures of herbs without denting my total supply.

The tomato topping for the bruschetta was a super simple mixture of diced tomatoes, basil leaves, and a pinch of salt. The bread was a loaf of my favorite, the daily baguette.

I also roasted half a peeled garlic bulb in the toaster oven for 15 minutes, or until the cloves were translucent. I mooshed the cloves with a fork into a paste and had guests treat it as a spread. I should have made more because the dish of garlic was scoured clean after less than 30 minutes of serving as an appetizer.

I should probably get the recipes for the remaining food from Clark, as he made the scalloped tomatoes and grilled chicken. The scalloped tomatoes are especially beloved in our household and it’s worth getting the actual recipes correct from the beginning.

Sadly, we ran out of time to grill the giant zucchini. I pulled it out of the garden this morning, but now it’s going to have to spend some time in the fridge taking up most of the veggie drawer.

It’s so big that it’s an appropriate size for a vegetarian version of ‘Lamb to the Slaughter’. You know, I could bludgeon someone to death with it and then feed it to the detectives investigating the murder. I’m going to keep that one in my back pocket…just in case.

Project #199 – Seed Envelopes

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

I stopped by the art store today to take a look some new markers. What I wanted wasn’t in stock, so the manager gave me a catalog. It’s a catalog I have no intention on using because the whole point of going to the art store was to try out the markers before buying them.

Now, I have a catalog with pretty, glossy paper. It will be much more useful reused as something else or recycled, rather than something that sits on my coffee table and entices me to spend money. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ordered anything out of a catalog since the advent of online shopping.

When I was in high school my girlfriends and I would rip pages out of fashion magazines and fold them into envelopes for sending letters through the mail. This catalog has the same kind of shiny paper with colorful images, so I could use the pages for the same thing. However, since I don’t mail letters very often anymore it would be more useful to have envelopes suited for another task, namely seed collection out in the garden.

To make my own seed saving envelopes, I first made a template out of card stock. The template is based on what I wanted the final size of the envelopes to be (about 2″ by 3″), plus a little extra on the sides for folding, and a flap on one end. I ripped out my favorite pages from the catalog and traced my template onto each. I then cut them out and folded the flaps over, taping them in place.

Lastly, I added some labels so that I could keep track of what was what and when it was collected.

Now I have no excuses for not collecting and sharing seeds this year.

Project #188 – Veggies from the Ground

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

The garden is just finishing the transition from spring veggies to summer ones. Finally, after weeks of waiting I’ve been able to pull my first non-leafy veggies. I guess you could say that nature made these, but eff it, I’ve put in hours and hours of weeding watering and cultivating just to make these summer crops possible. So, I’m taking credit, dammit.

Check out this guy on the lower left here; it’s a cross between a zucchini and a spaghetti squash. I guess it’s a zughetti squash or, uh, a spaghecchini squash. It’s a delicious freak of nature.

Project #181 – Front Stoop Garden

Thursday, July 16th, 2009

The people in the house next door moved out and the landlord is fixing the place up to move someone new in. Fortunately, they cleaned up the yard, stripping out the jungle of weeds. Unfortunately, they also accidentally cleaned up our front flower bed, scouring down to tulip bulbs in the soil. All of my perennials were stripped out, ones that were juuuust on the verge of blooming nice flowers that I like to use in arrangements. The poison ivy in the corner, however, was untouched. Haaaa.

Clearly, my front garden was not part of the yard next door, but whatever, mistakes were made. The landlord has the personality of a very angry cactus, so I was surprised that he sent someone out to put some new flowers in the bed, even if they were annuals and not the perennials I had lost. Still, I know when to leave well alone and decided to turn that part of the yard into another food generating zone.

I am very loyal to our local garden center, Sestili nursery. It’s located in one of the most densely populated parts of Pittsburgh, but it somehow remains a big secret. It’s built up against a cliff in Oakland overlooking Schenley Park and just across the Swinburne bridge from my neighborhood. They are very generous with the late season discounts and I’ve been taking great joy in ‘adopting’ vegetable and herb plants that otherwise wouldn’t find a home past the end of June. I’ve been getting perennials for half price and herbs for $1 each. I’ve never had anything die on me and the proprietors are kind enough to indulge my requests for weird varieties of mint and basil.

My front stoop is now home to a bush variety cucumber, three tomato plants of various lineages, a black-eyed-susan perennial, a bee balm perennial, three deep purple pepper plants, and the small crop of replacement annuals. It’s a nearly vertical plot, so it’s a relief to have something taking up space.

The new front garden looks a little bare, but I’ll have it filled in and blooming in a few weeks. It will be a good excuse to spend some time in the front yard for once.

Project #138 – Strawberry Veils

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

I’ve been eagerly anticipating the first strawberry of spring. Strawberry season for our garden lasts only a few short weeks, but all of the work is worth it for the plentiful, sweet, red-all-the-way-through berries. I check every day for berries once they start to blush. Only this year every time I find a half ripe strawberry the red half has already been eaten away by a nefarious combination of ants and beetles. A liberal application of boric acid (safe for anything the doesn’t have an exoskeleton) did nothing to stop them.

I spent three days in a row expecting to find a berry that I could finally eat myself, and only to find each eligible one collapsed and chewed up. I always lose a few every year to pests, the price of not using poisons (but worth it because I get to squat in garden every year eating sun-warmed fruit straight off the plant), but losing 100% of my harvest several days is a row sucks. These are my strawberries! Mine!

Fed up, and unwilling to use meaner chemicals I decided to go low tech. I cut squares of black tulle and spent and hour crawling around the strawberry patch looking for any berries giving the barest hint that they were ready to ripen. I fastened each with a rubber band.

I checked back after a day and I was relieved to see that my solution worked. I wish it was a little less tedious to check and cover each strawberry, but the slight ache in my back was worth it. I was worried about having enough to make my husband’s annual rhubarb-strawberry pie, but I think I’ll have enough after two days of veiled strawberries.

Project #129 – Emergency Frost Protection for Plants

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

WTF, NATURE? It’s going to frost? In the middle of May? WTF is wrong with you? Can’t you see that people have already planted their tomatoes and cucumbers, you know, the stuff that dies when it’s touched by frost? What do you have against summer squash? Why? WHHHYYYY?

{sigh} Okay, I feel better.

When I head about the frost warning I was not about to let something stupid like four hours of potentially freezing conditions rob me of an entire year of vegetables, so I went on the defensive. I bought a big roll of burlap and took every blanket in the house and covered anything that I thought would be worth saving, which was everything that I planted this season.

Next, I’m going to go on the offensive and burn a tree. Take that, environment! (I kid, I kid. I love trees…when they aren’t falling on stuff I like.)

I draped both vegetable beds in the back yard in fabric, as well as the bonus strawberry patch. Vegetables like peas, lettuce, mont, onions, salad greens, and swiss chard can take a little cold and be left uncovered, but varm weather plants like melons, cucumbers, zucchini, squash, tomatoes, and basil will turn black the second they freeze. Even if the plants don’t die their yield will be seriously compromised. Strawberries can also usually take the cold, but mine were already fruiting, so I didn’t want to take any chances. Anything in a container won a free trip indoors for a few days.

In case of a super crisis where the temperatures dip well below freezing, I sewed together several cloth pouches and filled them with dry rice. Some people heat these bags in the microwave and then use them to relax sore muscles. I will use mine to protect strategically important parts of the garden. I tested them and found that they were still warm after an hour and a half, which might be enough to keep the frost away in their vicinity until morning.


*Update* Crisis averted. It only got down to 39 degrees last night. (I spent the night a work and checked the temperature regularly. Yay, but boo.) Suck it, freezing conditions!

Project #87 – Indoor Plantings

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

Starting seeds indoors always feels a little like gambling. Most of my seeds are from last year or the year before, so I’m not sure how many are going to germinate. Will being frugal pay off? Or will I be left with a half-empty seed tray?

I know what I am doing with some of these plants and I’ll get a second or third chance with some of the others. I’ve killed some of my plant varieties two years in a row through neglect (forgetting to water), laziness (letting the weeds go crazy) and stupidity (setting out seedlings without hardening them off). I’m trying to be more even and disciplined about gardening; I’m trying to think ahead and keep up with maintenance. I hope I’ve learned enough lessons so that I don’t kill off 75% of my indoor plantings again. I would really like to have more than one home grown cucumber a year.

Oh, and the egg garden is doing well, even if I did accidentally kill the parsley. 5 out of 6 is better than my usual failing marks.

Project #72 – Garden Plan

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

I’m not always the best about paying attention in church, especially during hymns, so I usually bring a pen and doodle in the service leaflet. This morning instead of drawing my usual dinosaur collection, I sketched out what I want to plan in the garden for the year. I want to start seeds so that they’ll be ready in time for the last frost. The garden is already cleared out and weeded, so I can even start some of the cold-weather plants now.

I started with a brown thumb and slowly graduated to a yellow one. Last year I tried to grow a bunch of things, like soybeans for example, that weren’t right for the size of my garden. I thought about it carefully and I’m trying to stick to veggies that make the biggest difference for our bottom line. These are the plants that I’m going to use for my spring crop:

  • Peas (Serpette)
  • Lettuce (Buttercrunch)
  • Swiss Chard
  • Red Orach (a salad green)

I’m also a fan of doing careful year-round planting, so I usually seed a secondary set of plants indoors and have them ready to go for when the spring plantings peter out in the hotter weather:

  • Zucchini
  • Spaghetti Squash
  • Beans (Romani Purpiat and Scarlett Runner)
  • Tomatoes (yellow pear and juliet )
  • Cucumbers (TBD)

I also have a few perennials. They make planning easier because they stay put.

  • Lavender
  • Bee Balm
  • Strawberries (Technically they’re a biennial, but they have so many runners that the tale care of themselves with a little thinning from me here and there.)
  • Chives

The fun part of planning is drawing up the bed charts. I have two main beds, an 8′ by 4′ raised garden, and a 6′ by 10′ garden nestled against the house. They both get a lot of afternoon sun and a little shade by evening.

I’ve already got my peas and red orach planted in the raised garden. The red orach doesn’t take up much space, but it gets to be pretty tall and was one of the best producers in my garden last year. When the peas, lettuce and swiss chard bolt I’ll replace them with tomatoes, beans and cucumbers.

Home grown strawberries are the best thing ever! The strawberries in this bed will be done by mid May, but the Zucchini and Squash are aggressive growers, so they’ll take over after that. To the one side I have my perennials: chives, lavender and bee balm.

I’ll also have various herbs in containers sitting in the less hospitable parts of the garden. I can move them if it gets to hot. Most of my container plantings will be herbs like basil, parsley, chervil, shiso, dill and mint. I’ll also have a rotating crop of salad greens in the big container.

Project #57 – Egg Shell Garden

Friday, February 27th, 2009

I am dying for spring. I’m ready for it. I have a hyacinth on my desk and an outfit picked out for the first real warm day. I’m ready for winter to be over so I can clean the debris out the garden and start planting. But that bastard groundhog was right and it’s going to snow again this weekend. No! More!

It’s too early to start seeds for outdoor planting; there’s always at least one more freeze the first week of April. I’m getting so desperate for some sort of green that I decided to plant a late spring indoor garden today so I’ll at least have some seedlings to look at by next week. Oh, and because we’re in the season of Lent I’ll do a little egg themed garden. Also, we have a lot of eggs and Clark is getting a little irritated because I keep forgetting and buying more.

Plus, eggs are excellent for planting. I always add some to the soil for extra calcium, so at planting time I’ll just crush the shells enough to let the roots grow out. Each plant will automatically have its own all natural fertilizer.

These eggs are the best. They come from a local farm owned by the parents of a friend. All of the chickens are very happy (I’ve met them!) and eat bugs and fall asleep on the driveway. Plus, some of them lay actual blue eggs. I didn’t know chickens could do that until I saw it with my own two eyes.

To get an egg shell ready for planting poke a hole in the bottom and a larger hole in the top. You can do this with a heavy duty pin, or a fork tine. Shake the egg over a bowl and save the insides for omlettes or flan or panna cotta. Clean out the insides and puncture the membrane to get it out of the way.

Take an ordinary pair of kitchen scissors and cut the top opening wider. I didn’t know that it was possible to cut an eggshell with scissors before today, but I tried it on a hunch and it worked!

After that I let the shells dry a bit and then I filled each with seed starter soil.

The flags are made of masking tape and sections of wooden skewers. The skewers are $1 for 100 and handy for all kids of craft projects so I always have a pack on hand. (I use them to unclog glue tubes and for sculpting fimo) You can find them in the kitchen section of places like Target or Wal-Mart.

Please grow quickly!