Saturday, June 30, 2012

Best and Worst of My Garden - June 2012

dead potatoes, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.

This month began and ended with a couple of bad events. The first "Worst" of my garden is the death of my potato patch. It pains me so much to write this. For the first few weeks the potatoes seemed to be doing well and growing strong. One afternoon, as we were tending the garden before heading off to my father-in-laws for a couple of nights, we noticed a few brown leaves on some of the plants. When we came back two days later, the entire patch was brown and dead, decimated by some beetle. I was frustrated, angry, sad, and felt bad for my husband who put so much time and effort into building me the box to grow them in. That was not a good way to start the month.

mortgage lifters 6-30
Mortgage Lifter, smacked around and almost knocked out of the pot

carnival mix 6-30
Carnival mix bell pepper plant, ripped in half and gone too young

broken marglobe stem
Marglobe tomato stem, cut open and traumatized by the vicious storm

The next "Worst" is courtesy of the violent storm that blew through my area last night. The storm came through hard and fast with heavy rain and wind. When I woke up this morning, a few tomato and pepper plants had been knocked off a table and others were ripped in half. My Mortgage Lifter (top) was blown over, but thankfully, not broken. The pepper and Marglobe tomatoes didn't do as well. The tops were ripped off the pepper plants-- along with a lot of pepper buds!-- and the stem of my Marglobe tomatoes is cracked.

This isn't devastating though. Some people in my neighborhood lost trees, and there are others without power in our county. Thankfully nothing like that happened to us. I'll give up a few vegetable plants if it means no trees fall on us and we keep our electricity on a day that's supposed to get beyond 100 degrees.

first squash harvest
As for the "Best" of my garden, there isn't a whole lot going on. Everything seems to be growing slowly, and the squirrels and birds are taking fruit and plant stems. We've managed to harvest some squash--about 2 1/2 pounds so far.

bean flowers ferry morse 6-30
There's also the promise of good things to come. The vegetable plants that survived the storms are flowering, like these bean plants, and I hope July brings a good harvest.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

On the Grill: SSFC Week 4

This is my first non-vegetarian local meal of the challenge. I've been looking for a new local beef vendor, and I think I found a good go-to source of grass-fed beef at the new farmers' market I've started going to on Fridays. The temperature and humidity dropped yesterday so we decided to grill up some burgers using the ground beef from Smith Family Farm. The verdict--it's good beef! It had nice flavor and wasn't as fatty-tasting as the other beef had become from my old vendor.

grilled peaches
grilled peaches - I need to add amaretto next time, I think.

The rest of my plate contained vegetables from both the farmers' market and my own garden. I didn't have any buns (local or not), so we ate our burgers with a knife and fork. How very sophisticated. Do you still call it a burger when there's no bread?
On the plate:
  • ground beef patties - Smith Family Farm, VA
  • tomatoes - Stafford, VA
  • peaches - grilled up, can't remember the name of the VA vendor
  • new potatoes and vidalia onions (rubbed with salt and olive oil and cooked over the grill) - Stafford, VA
  • banana peppers, yellow squash, zucchini - my garden!

squash harvest 6-25
yellow squash and zucchini harvested from my garden June 24, 2012

I just realized that all my ingredients came from VA! I walk through the markets so jealous of all the produce. My garden has been a slow producer so far. We harvested about a pound of squash and half pound of banana peppers, so those got grilled up last night too. I hope by the end of the summer to have a whole dish all from my home garden.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Happy Summer!

According to the Old Farmer's almanac, summer officially starts at 7:09 p.m. tonight for those of us in the northern hemisphere. It definitely feels like summer has arrived. It's hot, hazy, and humid, and all my plants look like they need a drink. All I want to do is sit with my feet in a pool and drink iced coffees and rosé.  Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Eggs and Asparagus

Asparagus season has run its course around these parts. I'm seeing a lot of garlic scapes, peaches, and cherries at the farmers' markets, and my own garden is full of squash blossoms. For my All Local meals this week I used up the rest of my asparagus in a couple of egg dishes.

The first plate is a fried egg with steamed asparagus and the last strawberries from my edible garden. Looking at this plate makes me realize that so many of my local meals are small portions. There's so much plate showing! Had this not been an all-local dish, I would have had a few pieces of toast or a mountain of hash browns on it.

asparagus and boiled egg
For the next dish I was inspired by one of Mark Bittman's 101 Summer Salads. I chopped up a hard-boiled egg and mixed it with some steamed asparagus and added some shaved bits of raw asparagus on top. I just added olive oil, salt, and ground pepper, and it was a yummy breakfast dish.

Click here if you'd like to learn more about the SSFC eat local challenge I'm participating in, and click here to read about the delicious dishes that my other participant friends are eating.

I think I'm asparagus-ed out for now! It was fun to come up with different ways to eat it, but I'm ready for the next vegetable of the season. What are some of your favorite ways for eating asparagus?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Few Blooms This June

There aren't too many blooms in my garden this June. The azalea flowers are long gone, but the hydrangeas are at their peak. I've had some difficulties with my hydrangeas in the past, so this year my strategy is to leave them alone--no extra watering, no amendments to make the soil more acidic, nothing.

This is what the Endless Summer looked like in June 2011--tragic!!

endless summer many colors may 2012
I guess my strategy to let them be has paid off. Maybe the amendments I added last year were stored up because for the first time, my Endless Summer hydrangea has more colors than just pink. This year it produced blue and purple as well. I love it! I love blue hydrangeas, and especially love the purple ones that have popped up here and there.

brestenburg 5-26-12
The Brestenburg has always been blue and is blooming more profusely now. Unfortunately it looks like the other Endless Summer, which is in a pot, is suffering from that same fungus as last year.

squash blossoms
The only other blooms are the squash blossoms. Some of my tomatoes have flowers, but not as many as I'd like!

Unfortunately, that's it for blooms this June. I've had squirrel problems. They ate my alysuums, had knocked the heads of my marigold, and I've had to start my sunflowers three times because they dug up the seeds. I hope to have some other flowers to show for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day next month.

Stop by May Dreams Gardens to see what's blooming in other gardens.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Thomas Jefferson's Garden and a Vineyard Visit

My husband and I took an overnight trip to Charlottesville, VA, over Memorial Day weekend. The last couple of months had been pretty stressful for both of us, and a quick getaway was perfect to recharge. We chose Charlottesville because I'd heard there were a lot of good vineyards and wineries to tour, and we've also been on an American history kick, so I wanted to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.

I might have mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we've been on this self-directed American history tour.  Last November, we toured Mt. Vernon, George Washington's home, and during a weekend trip to Philadelphia last fall, we saw the Liberty Bell and toured Independence Hall. We live within a short drive of many historical spots, we figured we should take advantage. It was also nice to avoid the beach crowds and beach traffic on the holiday weekend.

I had toured Monticello as a child as part of field trip for school, but I don't remember the gardens at all. I'm not even sure if they were fully developed then? I remember bits of the house itself, which seemed bigger to me as a kid. Now that I garden, I was also very curious to see TJ's garden and learn more about his agricultural interests and experiments.

The Monticello gardens are huge and include flowers, vegetables, an orchard, and other trees. Many vegetables and flowers that he grew were native to Virginia, but TJ also liked to experiment with plants from around the U.S. and the world. His garden included trees that were brought back to him by Lewis and Clark's expeditions...

...and tropical plants like yucca. The "TJ" on the label indicates that the plant was grown by Jefferson.

The Foundation grows other vegetables and flowers to complement what's in there now (like the zucchini above). There's a harvest event in the fall, and the volunteers said that sometimes the extra harvests are donated to shelters nearby or given to them (but with so many volunteers, they sometimes only go home with one cabbage). They mentioned that they they grow tulips in the spring to provide dramatic effect when walking up to the house, but tulips in TJ's day were probably not grown because they were very small then and prohibitively expensive.

I would love to grow onions like this.

I'd love to have just 1/10 of this space! I liked the layout of his garden, the neat tidy rows and structures, and how he interspersed flowers and ornamental plants between the vegetables. I know people do this today, but if you're like me and can only garden in pots, it's a big deal to walk through a garden like this. I got a lot of inspiration for the type of garden I'd like to have some day.

We also toured Montpelier, James Madison's home. Montpelier recently underwent an extensive renovation, and there's not as much to see as at Monticello, but I enjoyed seeing his home and learning more about this lesser-known president. Lesser known to me, anyway.

Now the good stuff--the wine!

Originally we were going to tour the Jefferson Vineyards, but many locals recommended Veritas Vineyards,so went there instead. Once I learned that Jefferson didn't actually make wine (he tried but couldn't get grapes to survive the bugs) I realized that it wasn't actually TJ's vineyard, so I didn't really care which one we chose. Veritas was a great recommendation. Wine tastings were only $5 for 8 wines, and they were so good we came home with 4 bottles. The people were very nice and the grounds were beautiful. They said they host a lot of weddings there, and I can see why.

Are there vineyards near where you live? Which gardens inspire you?

Monday, June 11, 2012

SOLE Food Week 2

green salad ingredients, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.

During Week 2 of the SSFC we were challenged with making a raw/vegetarian dish. I knew I'd be incorporating asparagus into whatever I made because I'm still working through the two bunches I bought at the farmers' market the week before last. I store asparagus by keeping the spears in the fridge in a cup filled with enough water to cover the ends. It keeps beautifully, because 10 days later I'm still working my way through all this fresh asparagus in my fridge. I sometimes wonder if it's multiplying?!

green salad with asparagus

The heat has really rolled in, and the only thing I want to eat when it's this hot is fruit and salad, so I decided on a green salad with asparagus. I steamed the asparagus a little to soften it. The red and yellow tomatoes are hothouse tomatoes from Hummingbird Farms in Ridgely, MD, and the greens and asparagus are also from a farm in MD, though I can't recall the name now. I love olives in my salad but left them out for this challenge. I don't really like heavy dressings on my salads, and I dressed this green salad with olive oil and rice vinegar, my old stand-by.

farmers market purchase 6-8

I discovered a new farmers' market last week too. I need to find a new local meat vendor because I no longer like the beef from the local vendor that I used to buy from. The taste has changed and there seems to be more fat in it. I found a producer-only farmers' market in Fairfax County that only takes vendors from within 125 miles, so it's perfect for me for this challenge. The downside is that it's only open from 4-7 on Friday, so it means having to rush home from work to get there in time. I bought ground beef from the Smith Family Farm, and I can't wait to try it. I hope it becomes my new meat source. I also picked up these veggies. Don't these onions look gorgeous? I hope to harvest some like that from my own garden.

You can click here to read more about the Challenge, and click here to see what other challenge participants are making.

Hope you ate something good this weekend!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Squash Blossoms

first squash blossom 2012, originally uploaded by Bumble Lush.

My zucchini and summer squash plants have really come to life in the last week. This first flower appeared last week on a yellow crookneck plant.

I've seen many bees and butterflies in my garden, but I helped the pollinators along a little by using a QTip to pollinate some of the female flowers. (You can see that we re-use some of our containers; this yellow squash plant is in an old Endless Summer hydrangea pot). I've already seen small batches of zucchini and yellow squash at the farmers' market. I hope my little plants catch up soon. 

container zucchini 6/3/12
We started most of our squash from seed but bought a few plants as well. One of the new varieties I'm trying is this Astia zucchini from Renee's Garden, designed for specifically for containers, which is perfect for us because that's how we grow. I started two of these from seed and it looks like I may be picking some soon. The zucchini are very small, which I suppose is to be expected since they're designed for containers.

I always hear about people growing so much squash that they drown it and have to give it away or sneak bags of it onto their friends' and neighbors' porches. I have NEVER grown that much squash, but I would love to know what it feels like.

What about you? Are you growing squash? Do you ever have so much extra that you have to give it away?

Monday, June 4, 2012

Eating Local

Last winter I participated in a challenge with some other bloggers to eat one meal each week made from local, seasonal ingredients called the Dark Days of Winter Challenge. (My posts are under the Dark Days Food label).

Some of us decided to breakout and continue with the challenge throughout the summer, and the Southern SOLE Food Challenge was born--"Southern" because we're mainly located in the southern part of the U.S., and "SOLE" meaning Sustainable, Organic, Local, and/or Ethical.  My focus will be on local and seasonal food. Although some farmers don't have an official organic label, I know they're using sustainable methods. You can read more about this challenge and participants on my Food Challenges tab.

This challenge began last Friday, June 1, and goes through the end of October. Here's what my first locally-sourced meal looked like:

omelet ingredients from farmers' market and my garden

Asparagus is in season, so I picked up a bunch, as well as some other local ingredients, and made an omelet. The onion stems, rosemary, and purple pepper are all from my own garden. The asparagus, tomatoes, and eggs came from a farmers' market. As I learned from the Dark Days Challenge, some farmers' markets in my area allow for re-sellers and brokers, and I don't buy my food from those anymore. Farmers' market prices are usually higher, so why am I going to pay higher prices for food that doesn't even go directly to the farmers who made it?

I was so concerned with the main ingredients that I completely forgot to pick up locally-made milk and butter, so I'll have to stock those for future meals. I'll have my own home-grown vegetables to use once the garden starts producing, and I like summer fruits and veggies much more than winter ones. I definitely think the SSFC will be easier and more fun that the winter challenge in that sense.