Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Best and Worst of my Garden -- January 2012

Welcome to the Best and Worst of my garden, January edition. I'm recapping the good and bad things that happened in my garden this month, similar to what I do at the end of the calendar year (my year-end 2011 and 2010 posts, if you'd like to see).

There's not a whole lot going on in the garden this January. I normally alternate Best/Worst listings, but right now I have more bad things to talk about than good things, so let's get the worst out of the way first:
Worst -- I do not like erratic behavior, not in people, animals, or the weather. I think the entire country has had abnormal weather this January. Here in DC we have gone from spring to winter and back to spring, all in 72 hours. It's been happening all month. I'm not sure what this means for the upcoming spring/summer growing season, but I hope we don't have extreme conditions.

Worst -- I realized that I can't grow carrots in containers.

Worst -- My indoor pepper plan didn't quite pan out. But I'm thinking positive--I hope the few pepper plants that I still have pull through, especially my anaheim pepper plant that has been with me for years.

Best-- I ordered some new seeds to try this spring and I can't wait to start them!

What's happening in your garden? If you want to share any hits and misses, frustrations and triumphs, or anything you're dreading or looking forward to, please link up and share!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Sad Carrots

{sub-title: Garden Fail #2}

Look at this beautiful bunch of carrots. I bought it at the farmers' market a couple of weeks ago.

See these pathetic little things? I grew them.

I wanted to see if I could grow carrots in containers. These are the little carrot plants before I thinned them last spring. Unfortunately I don't have containers deep enough for what these carrots needed. And I purposely planted a variety of carrots designed to be short and stubby, like baby carrot, so I expected small carrots, but not microscopic ones that look like toothpicks!

I did harvest a few that were a somewhat decent size (compared to the little nubbins in the first few photos), but overall, I consider this a garden fail because of the vast number of microscopic ones that came out. I have found some carrots that are designed to grow in containers, but I don't know if I want to try it again this season.  If I ever have more land, I'll definitely try growing them properly in the ground.

There is a happy ending to this sad carrot tale. I took the itty bitty carrot nubbins to the animal shelter on my volunteer night and gave the shelter bunnies a little treat.

I know some of you grow carrots. Have you ever grown them in containers with better results than these? What variety do you grow?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Dark Days of Winter Week 9: Chili

{Dark Days One Pot Meal Challenge}

This week we had a challenge within a challenge--to make a one-pot meal with local ingredients.  I love soups or any meal that can be made in a slow cooker, and we've hit the part of winter where all I want is a hot bowl of soup anyway, so the timing was right for this.

Chili :
( servings)
- 1 pound ground beef (grass fed from Lamb's Quarter farm, a local, family run farm)
- 1 can black beans (an exception I listed in my original post; I wanted to reserve the right to use beans and legumes in my Challenge meals. Plus without beans this would just be meat soup)
- 1 large tomato (organic, local, and hydroponically grown)
- 1 cup bell peppers (harvested from my garden and frozen last summer)
- 1 large onion ( farmers' market)
- 2 cloves garlic (farmers' market)
- 2 cups of water
- 2 teaspoons of flour (exception to the local rules, and used to thicken the soup because we excluded cans of tomato sauce for the Challenge)
- Spices and seasonings to taste (cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper--all exceptions under the Challenge rules)

A hot, spicy bowl of chili is a good antidote to a cold winter night. Husband made this batch for the Dark Days One Pot Challenge, and he is the chili master. I'm not just saying that because I have to. ;)  (Seriously, he makes really good chili).  Because this was our local meal of the week, we left out the sour cream and cornbread that would normally accompany a bowl of chili, but it was good nonetheless. Actually sometimes I put a little guacamole on top of my chili to curb the heat. I can't handle spicy food.
Although I mentioned missing the guacamole, sour cream, and cornbread, I really don't mind not having them. This Challenge has certainly made me appreciate the foods that I often have to leave out when making my meals. It has also made me appreciate the fact that I have access to many ranchers and farms who produce grass-fed beef or pasture-raised chicken. The DC area has many farmers' markets and CSAs, and I've been finding many more local food resources than I thought, especially winter vegetables. I feel very fortunate, especially because my little kitchen garden doesn't produce enough veggies to get me through the winter.

 I also noted above that we left out cans of tomato sauce. I've never canned or preserved anything before, so I didn't have homemade home-grown sauce on hand. I wonder if I could learn to can? This may be a project for the coming summer.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Almost Indoor Pepper Garden

{sub-title: Garden Fail #1}

Many weeks ago we decided to over-winter several pepper plants in our office. Many still had ripe fruit on them and it's way too cold to leave them outside at night.

We have overwintered this two-year-old anaheim pepper plant before. I started it from seed in spring 2009, and this is the exact same plant. This will be the third winter that we bring it inside. It's still cranking out nice-looking peppers! (I gave this plant its own special post here).

That's the anaheim plant in the green pot. We brought in the cherry, bell, serrano, and jalapeno peppers overwinter. The office actually gets a little humid with all the plants and the sunlight, and we water as necessary. We'd never over-wintered this many plants before, and I thought it would be an interesting experiment to see if they would all make it.

{Yellow bell pepper that I harvested from the indoor crop}

For example, we harvested this big juicy yellow pepper from the plants indoors, as well as a handful of other serranos and cherry peppers. Everything seemed to be going well until we went in one day and saw that one of the plants had exploded in aphids. We took that plant outside so the aphids wouldn't infest the other plants. Once again, everything seemed to be going well until I went in last week and saw almost every single plant crawling with aphids. I'm talking it looked like the pots were moving. It was indescribably disgusting. We moved them all outside again, but at that point the cold temperatures were too much for the plants and they just died. 

We were able to save a few that didn't have any aphids on them. Don't they look pathetic?

So the lesson I learned was, wait until the temps are cooler before bringing plants inside in case there are bugs waiting to manifest themselves. I hope they pull through, especially my 3-year-old anaheim pepper plant. 

Do you overwinter any vegetable plants?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Dark Days of Winter Weeks 7-8: Soups!

All I crave in winter are soups and stews. Over the last two weeks, I've made a couple of mostly local soups for my Eat Local Challenge. I was very happy to see that my year-round farmers' market still has a nice selection of produce in January. I had some leftover celery from a previous trip to the market, and I picked up some onions and this beautiful bunch of carrots to add to a lentil soup. I used the potatoes for a separate soup. And the cheese was just a special treat for me!

Lentil Soup
(five servings)
Lentils (An exception that I listed in my original post; I wanted to reserve the right to use beans and legumes in my Challenge meals)
Celery (farmers' market)
Carrots (farmers' market--such a sweet and pure taste! I wish I could grow carrots myself)
Onion (farmers' market)
Oil, salt, pepper (all given exceptions under the Challenge rules)

I followed the cooking directions on the bag of lentils. I added water instead of vegetable or chicken broth to try to keep this as SOLE as possible.  I actually make this soup regularly throughout the year, and it's very nutritious and leftovers are perfect to bring to lunch at work.

The other mostly local soup I made was a potato celery soup. I used this recipe as a guide but made many modifications. I excluded wine to keep this as locally-sourced as possible (and I wasn't about to use my tasty local white wine on this soup). I also used more potatoes and less celery than the recipe called for, based on the ingredients I had available.

Potato Celery Soup:
(six servings)
Potatoes (farmers' market)
Celery (farmers' market, leftovers from a previous trip)
Onion (farmers' market)
Chicken broth (exception; I know I could have made my own but I wanted this soup right now!)
Thyme (my garden)
Olive oil, salt, and pepper (Oil and seasonings are always exceptions in this challenge)

Interestingly, the recipe didn't call for cream, so the soup wasn't thick, but it wasn't watery either. The consistency was just right, and the soup was the perfect meal on a freezing January afternoon.

Here's the best part about making these two soups:
I had tons of leftovers! In addition to the bowl of lentil soup that I ate, I packaged up four containers to freeze and/or take to lunch. My husband and I each had a bowl of potato soup, and then I stored enough for two more meals each (so four more potato soup servings). My freezer is stocked and my belly is happy.

Monday, January 16, 2012

New Tomato Seeds Arrived!

I'm excited to write about three new tomato varieties that I plan to grow this season. I ordered these seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and purposely picked seeds that were suited to the mid-Atlantic.

Mortgage Lifter VFN - (Indeterminate) An improved version of 'Radiator Charlie's Mortgage LifterTM' which has added disease resistance, more uniform fruit, ripening to red rather than pink-red. Fruit is large, 10-14 oz, not as large as the original 'Mortgage Lifter', but much more productive.

As you know, I have limited space and grow almost all my vegetables in containers. I don't always plant determinate varieties though. I plan to get a nice deep container for this tomato and if I get fruit that is the size of my hand, I may just die of shock and happiness.

Marglobe(Determinate) [A select strain of the old favorite 'Marglobe' originally released by the USDA in 1925. 'Marglobe' was first developed in 1917 from a cross between 'Marvel' and 'Globe'.] Fruits are red, medium-sized, 5 to 8 oz. with firm walls and good flavor.

I chose this variety because it is determinate and will hopefully do well in containers. I was also intrigued by how old this variety is.

Ground cherries - [Cossack Pineapple ground cherry, to be precise] - Bite-sized berries are so tasty that they may never make it into the kitchen, especially if you have children. Excellent for preserves, hot dessert toppings, salads or mock pineapple yogurt. Plants are short (12"-18") but with bushy spreading lateral branches which choke out weeds. Fruits ripen to a pineapple yellow.

I am most excited about the ground cherries. When we were in Iceland I had the most delicious Nutella crepe topped with cream and a ground cherry. I think the ground cherry was just for garnish, but I ate it anyway, and it was so sweet and unusual that I knew I had to try to grow them.

I plan to grow other tomato varieties too, but haven't quite decided which ones yet. I can't wait til seed starting time! {all pictures via SESE website}

Have any new seeds arrived for you? Are you trying anything new this year?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

First Snowfall

Wow, in 48 hours we've gone from spring to winter! There's been snow in other parts of the state this winter, but this is the first snowfall in my backyard, so now I feel like winter has officially begun.

The picture above is of my hydrangea bush last night, the same one that was budding just two days ago in the 65-degree temperature.

{my rosemary bush, covered in snow}

 I like living in the mid-Atlantic where I can experience all four seasons. Although I don't like extreme weather, and I don't like being on the road with people who can't drive in snow, I do appreciate the four seasons and the different weather they bring.  During the winter months, I like a little chill in the air and a little snow on the ground. I love cozy nights with hot tea, hot chocolate, wine, or soup. I like that a lot of nature is resting, waiting for spring that is just a few months away.

Do you like winter? Do you get snow where you live?

Monday, January 9, 2012

An Open Letter to Mother Nature

{hydrangea buds on January 7, 2012}

Dear Mother Nature,
I don't mind if you want to give us a mild winter. I won't complain if there is very little snow this year. But 65* in January?! You're confusing my hydrangeas (and other plants, birds, insects, etc).

A Concerned Gardener

Some of you in the U.S. have commented on the warmer temperatures in your areas, too. Is it feeling like winter yet where you are?

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Coming Soon--Best and Worst of the Garden

I guess 2012 is the year of new beginnings! Along with Barbie and Christine at Two Gardens and HolleyGarden at Roses and Other Gardening Joys, I've decided to start a monthly meme as well.

I plan to recap the "best of" and "worst of" my garden each month, similar to what I do at the end of the year. (My "Best and Worst" year-end recaps, if you'd like to see: 2010 and 2011).
In the year-end posts, I just recapped the few events that stood out from the previous year, so I'll do the same  for each month.

The idea for the "worst of" is not to focus on the negative but to record what goes wrong and learn lessons for next time--and hopefully, get help, advice, and sympathy from gardening friends online. And I always try to finish the post with a "best of" because it's better to end on a positive note, isn't it?

My inner geek just needs some kind of monthly summary to stay organized. I plan to do these posts at the end of each month, beginning January 31. Please join in if you'd like!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Feels Like Spring

{sunflower garden}

{beautiful tomatoes}

{white flower garden}

Unseasonably warm temperatures have me thinking about spring. It's supposed to be as warm as 60F here today! Thought I'd share a few spring/summer-like pictures I found while wasting time on Pinterest.

Happy Weekend!

{all pictures via Pinterest}

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Dark Days of Winter Week 6: No Shell Tacos

I began Week 6 of the Dark Days Eat Local Challenge with a Mexican inspired meal: shell-less tacos. I used the frozen leftover ground beef from Week 1's stuffed pepper meal and added some grated cheese and salsa to complete the meal. 

I made salsa with tomatillos from my own garden, and locally-grown garlic and tomatoes. To make the salsa, I first put four average-sized tomatillos, one garlic clove, and a pinch of salt in a food processor and chopped until chunky.

I took the tomatillos out of the food processor and added about half of a large red tomato (I wanted the salsa to be chunky and didn't want my red tomato blended up). I then added more salt to taste.

This is the block of cheese from the wine and cheese meal (Piedmont cheese from the Everona Dairy in VA). I grated it on top of the ground beef.  I usually use crumbly queso blanco in my Mexican cooking, but it comes imported from Mexico, and there's no way that would be considered local!

No Shell Tacos:
(serves 1)
- 1/4 pound local grass-fed ground beef, seasoned with bell peppers and parsley from my garden (as seen here)
- 2 teaspoons grated cheese (made from sheep's milk, local dairy)
- 4 medium tomatillos (my garden, harvested in early December)
- 1/2 of a large tomato (locally grown hydroponic tomato)
- 1 clove garlic (local farmers' market)
- salt (exception; I've started using Celtic sea salt. A little of this goes a LONG way).

This meal was filling, and it was nice to re-focus on the Challenge, especially after the excessive eating I did around the holidays. But I cannot lie--the dish needed cilantro and avocados.  I didn't mind not having the taco shells, and I didn't even mind skipping the sour cream, but I really missed the cilantro and avocados. I love cilantro but cannot seem to grow it myself, and it's not in season now so I haven't seen any at the farmers' market.  I think this meal made me appreciate avocados and cilantro so much more, and it made me think about how we lucky we are to have access to foods that are not native to our particular region. The Internet is a wonderful thing--I can get on localharvest.org and find small vendors of organic products or even small, organic growers of citrus in California.

I wonder how others are doing on this Challenge when trying to cook ethnic dishes?