Sunday, October 6, 2013

Summer Vegetable Garden Recap

Hello blog! It's been a while.

early october garden

We had a busy summer around here, with short trips, visitors, weddings to attend, and work. The new job is still going well, although I'm currently working without pay because of the government shutdown. I wish I had insight as to when this will end, but we don't know anything. We just hope that we'll get back pay since we've been deemed "essential employees" and are required to work now. Just another reason to appreciate my low-maintenance vegetable garden and the ability to have some fresh veggies without having to buy them at the store! The plan worked like a charm and has been manageable with our limited time at home.

early october garden

My container garden this year consisted of tomatoes, peppers, and four tomatillo plants. We had a relatively mild summer in the DC area--plenty of rain and not too many scorching hot days. It seemed like ideal conditions for the veggies. Bugs didn't seem to be as big of a problem this year as in previous years. We didn't grow cucumbers or any summer squash, so cucumber beetles, squash bugs, and squash vine borers weren't an issue. We had aphids and spider mites, but were able to control them somewhat by spraying the underside of the leaves with the hose on the high-pressure setting. We still have spider mites on some tomato plants, but it hasn't been enough to affect the yield too much.

first 2013 tomatoes
harvest 9-8
I haven't been great at keeping track of how many pounds of tomatoes we have harvested, but I haven't bought tomatoes in about 6 weeks. This past week has brought back summer-like temperatures in October, and I think the plants are enjoying the surprise weather. The tomatillos have just starting ripening in the past week or so. You can tell they're ripe when the husk starts drying out and clings to the fruit. I'm looking forward to all the green salsa I'll be making once I harvest enough of them.

yellow peppers 10-4
We just pulled these beautiful yellow bell peppers yesterday.

We've harvested more jalapenos, serranos, and habaneros than we can eat, so we've given some away. All of the hot peppers have had a lot of heat, more than in other years. I wonder if the milder temperatures and plenty of rain helped?

 pepper harvest july 2013
Our bell pepper harvest has been amazing. We're growing red, yellow, and orange bell peppers (all are green before they turn ripe) and use them in everything from soups to sauces to soffritos. 

big pepper
big red bell pepper 10-6-13
And the sizes have been great, too. Several of them have been big enough to fit and my hand and perfect for stuffing.

 bowl of peppers
We harvested this bowl of bell peppers mid-September and it yielded four pounds! 

I hope you and your garden had a wonderful summer. How's your fall garden looking?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Low Maintenance Garden

deck garden 7-4

I wasn't able to start many seeds this year for my edible garden, so we bought a few transplants instead.  This year's low maintenance garden consists of only 15 plants, about half the number I usually have.

super fantastic 7-27
Instead of planting squash, cucumber, beans, and other vegetables, I decided to keep it simple and focus on just two items for my kitchen garden this summer: tomatoes and peppers.
We bought both sweet and hot peppers, including a jalapeno plant because we have to have some hot peppers in the garden. So far the plants and pests have been manageable. There are even a few blushing Super Fantastic tomatoes right now.

tomatillos 7-4
I did start a few seeds, including two habaneros and two tomatillo plants, which are also doing really well.  Between the tomatoes, tomatillos, jalapenos, and habaneros, I expect to have a nice salsa garden this year. If only I could grow cilantro...

potato patch 7-4-13
And here's a nice surprise--two potato plants from my failed crop last year made an appearance.  Last year potato beetles decimated the potatoes I had started from seed. I was going to turn this into an onion patch, and these two potato plants surprised me by sprouting this spring.  I've left them alone just to see what happens. Wouldn't it be nice to get some potatoes this year?

How is your summer edible garden doing?

Saturday, June 15, 2013

June Blooms

hydrangea 6 11 13
While I wait for my vegetable garden to get going, I'm enjoying a few floral blooms...

This is the best my Endless Summer hydrangeas have ever looked. The plant is healthy and I love how the petal colors go from pink to purple to blue. And I think I finally figured out the secret to getting them to look this good--I left them alone! We've gotten so much rain that I haven't bothered to water or obsess about them, and I think they are thriving now that I'm not loving them too much.

My snapdragons have snapped back too.

yellow snap dragons

And here's a nice surprise: the yellow snapdragons reappeared this year! I didn't see them last year and thought that plant had just died. It's so nice to see this bit of yellow in my flower garden that seems to consist of a lot of pink right now.

The blooms are gone now, but in mid/late May the rhododendron was blooming. This variety is called Besse Howell and she's mighty cute. Besse was accompanied by a few pale pink Gerbera daisy blooms.

Lastly there's the Red Mill Andromeda (Pieris japonica 'Red Mill'). The white blooms are gone now, but what I really like about this beautiful shrub is that its new leaf growth is red. It's a nice addition to my garden.

I'm linking up with May Dreams Garden's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. Check out the blog to see what other gardeners have blooming in their gardens this month.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

June Berries

First harvest of 2013!

The last few weeks have been so busy, but in a mostly good way. My new job is going well. I like what I'm doing and I like the people I work with. It's amazing how much better my attitude is in the morning now that I'm going to a job I like. I'm not a work-aholic or someone who can't separate her work life from her personal life, but when you spend 40+ hours a week on something you don't like, it can be difficult to leave those negative feelings of frustration at the office. I have found that my mental state has been more tranquil and positive now that I like both what I do and who I see at the office.

On to the garden--I was finally able to spend some time in the garden on Sunday. We've had a cool spring, which was a nice change from last year when we went straight from winter to summer. The days are long and hot now, but I think the gradual change in temperature helped my strawberry patch. Finally, after a few years, the plans are producing berries of a decent size and not just tiny one-biters. I'm glad I was able to pick these sweet little strawberries before the garden critters got to them.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Spring, the Season of Change!

mosaic of Spring

Lots of change in the air….

I got a new job! I start next week. I’ll be going from a slow-paced/academic/think-tank environment to a faster-paced organization where I’ll be more involved with public policy, and hopefully get back to doing more international work, which is something I have missed. I’m very excited for the change in pace and the chance to do something new. My schedule is going to change quite a bit, though. Right now I can set my own hours and usually work from ~7:30 – 4. At the new place the hours are set at 9-6, which will leave me plenty of time for going to the gym in the morning. The downside is that I’ll have no excuse not to go to the gym in the morning. :(

Posting may be sporadic as I adjust to the new schedule. This is part of the reason I've been wanting a "low maintenance" garden this year. Work on that is still underway. Wherever you are, I hope you're enjoying the changes of Spring!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day 2013

tulips 4-21-13

Last week was a difficult week. As someone on Twitter pointed out, you know it's been a crazy week when the story about an Elvis-impersonator sending a ricin-laced letter to the President is not the top news story in the U.S.  Here's to hoping that this week is more peaceful than last week, not just in this country but all over the planet.

For Earth Day, I like something that CNN's Eatocracy blog posted last year: Try to grow something that you can eat, or join a CSA, or support your local farmers' market. Do one thing to keep your resources in your community. I think it's a nice way to focus on our environment, and to remember that old slogan-- "Think globally, act locally."

Friday, April 19, 2013

Seed Sowing: Onions

Seed starting onions

The only seed sowing I've begun so far is my onion seeds. I started these back in February:

Seed starting onions
  • Bronze D'Amposta red onions (ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds)
  • Sweet Spanish  (Ferry Morse, purchased at local garden center)
  • Red Burgundy (Ferry Morse, purchased at local garden center)
  • Hybrid Granex Yellow (Ferry Morse, purchased at local garden center)

Onion seedlings
I planted 5 of each seed. I got a good germination rate from the Baker Creek seeds-- 3 out of 5 germinated. I'm most excited to try these onions. They're described as "sweet...A great variety for fresh eating, as it is not too hot tasting." I think that means I won't repel my husband when I move in for a kiss.

Germination rates:
1 Sweet Spanish onion germinated, 3 out 5 Red Burgundy onions germinated, and only 1 of that wacky hybrid one germinated, but it promptly shriveled and died. Hybrids!

I think red onions are so pretty and I hope that my red onions seedlings pull through.

onion patch afterwards
I mentioned weeding out my onion patch in my last post. I planted this onion patch in Fall 2011, and last summer harvested about 2 pounds of onions. I left the others in the ground (show in picture above) and they survived the winter. It smelled really good when I was weeding last weekend!

onion harvest 8-18
 {{Here's what I harvested last summer from the onion patch.}}

Sadly, I cannot remember what variety they are!! That really bugs me because I'd love to grow more of them. They are mild and slightly sweet, and the flavor is very concentrated. A little bit goes a long way when I'm cooking and they're OK when eaten raw.

garlic 4-6-13
I also have a small garlic patch, which happened by accident. I call this variety Farmers' Market garlic because I bought a head of garlic at the farmers' market last fall, put in it in the ceramic garlic house when I got home, and forgot all about it. A couple of weeks later I went to use it, and the cloves had sprouted little stems. So I broke them apart and planted them in my raised bed out back.

Are you growing onions or garlic?

Friday, April 12, 2013

National Grilled Cheese Day!

Today is National Grilled Cheese Day. I don't know who decides these fake holidays, but my favorite sandwich is a grilled cheese, so I'm going with it.

It is pouring down rain this morning and a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, of course, sounds very appealing. If you're into grilled cheese, here are some links you might like:

As a kid I only wanted plain American cheese melted onto white bread, but as an adult I've been getting into interesting combinations, like these:

Spinach-artichoke grilled cheese

Jalapeno popper grilled cheese

Source: via s on Pinterest

Farmers' market grilled cheese (recipe calls for zucchini, spinach, tomato, and mayonnaise!! I would pass on the mayo, but otherwise it looks really good!)

You can click on the picture and/or source link under each picture to go to the recipe.

I think I'm going to have one like in the first picture--with melted mozzarella, tomato, and basil.

Do you like grilled cheese sandwiches? How do you make them?

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Great Gardening Weekend

We had a beautiful sunny weekend in DC. I'm sure everyone who was in town for the Cherry Blossom Festival appreciated it too. Just to remind myself of  how time passes, exactly one month ago, on March 6, it snowed!
The Snowstorm that Wasn't

On this sunny weekend I had the windows open in my house each day. It felt so good to have fresh air circulating through the house. The rest of my April weekends will be busy with out of town travel, a crawfish boil, birthday parties, and a going-away party, so I took advantage of the nice weather to get some yard work done on my free weekend.

seed starting 4:6
First, I started some sunflower seeds. (I am so woefully behind on seed starting in general. I only have some onion seedlings sprouting from seeds I started a couple of months ago).  I'm determined not to let the squirrels dig up my sunflower seedlings this year. We'll see who wins that war. I'm growing Teddy Bear sunflowers, Mammoth sunflowers, and Chianti sunflowers.

tulips 4:7
These are my Queen of the Night tulips. They're growing more every day and I can't wait to see those lovely dark purple blooms. I planted some peach colored alyssum seeds in the spaces between the tulips. I think the color combo of peach and dark purple will look nice.

onion patch before

My big garden task was weed work. Look at how these weeds have almost taken over my onion patch. Now imagine all of that on a 10x10 space. That's about the size of my backyard and it's all full of weeds. It's going to take a while to weed everything.

onion patch afterwards
But for now I managed to liberate my onion patch. This was a lesson learned for me. I will mulch better and/or plant some cover crops next fall to prevent this from happening again.

I also squeezed some shopping in this weekend. I treated myself to these cute pink shorts. I don't think I've ever owned pink shorts in my life. I must have spring fever. I can't wait for the weather to warm up enough to wear them.

Did you get any garden work done this weekend?

Monday, April 1, 2013

How to Oven-Dry Tomatoes

A couple of people asked about how I oven-dried my tomatoes last summer. I'm re-posting my method below. Thanks for asking!
(originally posted September 2012)

I have never canned anything before, and I don't think I grow enough food to go through the trouble of canning. I like the idea of preserving fresh food for the winter, and we do freeze a lot of food. I have local squash, spinach, and broccoli in the freezer that I haven't got around to using yet. Peppers freeze very easily--we clean them, core and remove the seeds, and then slice or chop them up, put them in a container, and leave them in the freezer. When I'm ready to use my peppers, I often just run them under water to soften them up and then they're ready to chop and add to your dish.
I had several ripe tomatoes on hand and decided to try oven roasting them.

tomatoes for roasting
These are so many recipes online with varying times and oven temperatures, and after sorting through all of them, I decided to follow this one by David Lebovitz. The length of time is hard to gauge because it depends on the size and moisture level of tomatoes. I've read that Roma tomatoes are best because they have a lower water content than others. Unfortunately my pile of tomatoes was of different varieties and sizes, so I loosely followed his recipe, but mainly decided to wing it.

I had one beefsteak tomato, a few Romas, a handful of cherries, and some Pink Brandywine heirlooms from my garden. I waited until we had a cloudy, somewhat cool day so that running the oven for 3 hours wouldn't stifle us to death in the summer heat. Here's what I did:

Oven-Dried Tomatoes
- Preheat oven to 325°F
- Cut the tomatoes in half horizontally, remove the stems, and remove the seeds. I patted dry some of the juicier tomatoes with a paper towel to remove some excess moisture.
- In an 8x8 pyrex baking dish, add about 3 tbsp olive oil, one clove of garlic, 1 tbsp dried oregano, 1 tbsp dried basil (from my garden!), and salt and pepper.*
- Toss tomatoes around in dish so that all sides are coated.
- Place tomatoes cut side down in the dish.
- Bake for 2 1/2 hours or until tomato skin is wrinkly. (Some of my smaller tomatoes were ready after 2 hours).

*Feel free to add your own combination of herbs and seasonings here. I think next time I'm going to use rosemary and thyme, or maybe do one dish with oregano only.

oven roasted tomatoes final
Here's the finished product. They don't look very pretty, but let me tell you, they smelled fantastic! The whole house smelled like olive oil, oregano, and basil, like a pizzeria! I almost hyperventilated from inhaling all that yumminess. I let them cool a little and then put them in a freezer bag. I think they'll be great in soups and sauces later this Fall.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

SSFC: Super Spinach Salad!

For my last SOLE Food Challenge I made a super spinach salad. All winter long I'd seen various spinach salad recipes on the internet touting the health benefits of spinach and eggs and other ingredients that go into this "super salad." I kept mine really simple with local ingredients, forgoing a bacon vinaigrette (as so many of the recipes have) because I didn't have any local bacon.

Super Spinach Salad ingredients
My ingredients of Spinach, Potatoes, and Onions were all bought at the Dupont Circle farmers' market. The eggs came from a family farm in Maryland and are being sold at my local Whole Foods. I steamed the spinach (which had been frozen and stored in my freezer), hard-boiled an egg, and sauteed the potatoes and onions with some olive oil, salt, and pepper. The result was a light, healthy, and delicious meal, perfect for me when I was feeding only myself one afternoon.

Super Spinach Salad

Now that spring is here, more farmers' markets are re-opening for the season and I can't wait to start enjoying seasonal foods like asparagus, broccoli, and more spinach, and eventually strawberries, green beans, tomatoes, summer squash, blueberries, and watermelon!! I've literally been dreaming of watermelon. Can't wait for summer! I'm also looking forward to working on my own garden, and I hope to find time to get some seeds started soon.

I had fun participating in the winter version of this challenge to eat local and seasonal foods. It'll be so much easier to eat that way now that spring and summer are on their way! To see what other participants are eating, click on the SSFC badge above.
Happy Easter!!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

SSFC: The Loaf Post

Local ingredients: meatloaf and bubble and squeak

This local food challenge post got lost in draft format back in January. I want to share my two favorite kinds of loafs (loaves??): meat and lemon. Meat loaf is the ultimate comfort food to me, and on a cold winter night, if I can't have a big bowl of soup, then I want meatloaf and mashed potatoes. We eat red meat maybe once a week, and I'm happy to have found Smith Family Farms in VA as my source of local beef. We've tried different cuts and have been pleased with the flavor of all of them.

Local ingredients: Bubble and Squeak cooking

Instead of mashed potatoes, I had this meat loaf dish with bubble and squeak (my version of it) made with potatoes (farmers' market), Swiss chard (farmers' market), bell peppers and onions (my garden, frozen). Click here for my recipe with seasonal ingredients.

Lemon blueberry loaf glazed
My other favorite loaf is lemon loaf. I am addicted to Starbucks lemon bread but I have to restrict myself on how many times a week I get it because it's very sweet (and expensive) but oh so good! When Meyer lemons were in season back in January I made a lemon loaf. It wasn't quite as sweet as the Starbucks kind, but it was pretty damn good! Especially with a hot cup of coffee.

I have one more week left of the SSFC now that winter is over. To see what others are eating this week, click on the badge.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Spring Has Arrived!

tulip planting
Spring is here! Although you wouldn't know it from the near-freezing temperatures and snow flurries I saw this morning. There are several signs of spring around my garden, though. I've seen a lot more bird and squirrel activity, and my tulips have sprouted! I planted these Queen of the Night tulips back in November, and on March 10 saw the first signs of them sprouting.

tulips 3-10-13
tulips 3/19/13
 I took this last picture two days ago, and you can see the tulip leaves starting to unfurl. I can't wait to see these pretty dark purple flowers in my garden. I planted Queen of the Nights a few years ago with some red tulips, but this year I may add a different type of flower to fill in the gaps, maybe in yellow or cream. I  haven't had much time lately to write about my garden plans, I've been busy with work and am probably going to start a new job soon which may mean longer work days for me. I'm aiming for a low-maintenance garden this year, and I also want more flowers in my garden. I think more flowers may attract more pollinators, which could then help the veggie plants.

Has Spring arrived yet where you are?