The last three months, the hubby has been doing something a little different in our garden. I’ve wanted a raised bed garden for years, mainly because I knew I wouldn’t always be able to get down on my knees to plant. But also because our soil is almost pure clay, and difficult to get anything to grow lush and green and strong without overwatering. And in this time of drought in California, bigger water bills are NOT on the menu.
a 4’x8’x16″ dirt coffin
Above is the newest “dirt coffin” as the hubby likes to call it. This is #3. The soil is a mix of our own dirt (that had been amended in other planting beds), soil for raised beds, steer manure, and vermiculite. Since it gets so hot where we are, and our back yard gets the setting sun, he decided we should situate the planters near the shade of the oleander (above photo, to the right). This bed gets the most sunshine. Beyond the bed, that black thing is our composter. All our green food waste and our coffee grinds go into the composter.
Dirt Coffin #1, 4′ x 8′ x 16″. This has all veggies planted in it.
You can see the squash on the left – yeah, that didn’t work out too well, so we had to pull them out recently. The squash needed more light – they weren’t setting fruit, but they grew lush and big after being puny in the regular back yard. Hubby also built netting cages, to keep the birds and the grasshoppers from eating the tender lettuces. The left side of this planter faces north; all of the climbers should have been planted along that left side. Live and learn! We have several types of lettuce, spinach, bush beans, pole beans (at the back), and sugar snap peas growing in this bed.
We also have Malabar Red (or Asian) Spinach – yes, that’s spinach! It’s thicker, and has a completely different taste. Works great in salads, grows fast, and has pretty pink flowers.
Dirt Coffin No. 2 is our herb bed.
Here, we have a row of basil (that almost died before we transplanted it – we weren’t sure it would make it); in front of it, you can see the thyme. Behind it to the right, the first two squares are Mexican tarragon (which I LOVE!!!), the other two are Thai Basil. Behind them, the two middle squares at the far right is anise, and the two on either side is fennel.
Here, you can see curled parsley in front and Italian parsley behind. Marigolds tend to keep bugs away, so each bed has marigolds planted.
Here’s the parsley a month later – it’s gotten so big!
And look at the basil, also a month later! (In the background, the anise has been eaten. Sad face.)
This is the basil I picked last night in order to make pesto. 2.5 cups, put into 4 oz jars and stashed in the freezer. When I went outside this afternoon, the basil looks like I haven’t touched it. So I’m guessing more pesto will be made. If you’re local, you just might end up with a jar!
So what my hubby and I learned, is that where you plant, as well as what type of soil you plant in, is very important. We’re finally finding the right home for everything. Vegetables and herbs need the soil loose enough, so the roots can grow deep enough and the plants tall enough. If all we get is our fresh herbs and salad greens from these beds, we’ll both be very happy.
And here’s number 3, planted. The back row has broccoli (it’s supposed to get to 3′ high); the row in front of the broccoli has onions and garlic; the row in front of that has 2 kinds of kale and collard greens; the very front has spinach from seed and more collards, as well as the marigolds. You can see planter 2 in the background, beyond the hammock. Planter #4 has just been installed this weekend, where the blue water barrel sits. In front of the barrel is a “winter” tomato plant. (We’ve found the best, most exotic things to plant at a family-owned nursery not far from where I work. Really must get back there!)
Planter #4 will have potatoes in it, and not sure what else. Maybe cauliflower, and beets, when they come into the stores. Still keeping my eyes open.
So, this is where my hubby’s energies go when he’s not learning lines or songs or working in the tv/film industry. I dabble here…and I love it.
Happy Monday, my friends. May this transition time from one season to the next be good for you.
This was two years ago – an amazing amount of yummy Roma tomatoes in my Dad’s garden. July 2012.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of eating the first ripe tomatoes of the season. It’s one of the reasons I like to buy cherry, or patio, tomatoes (not the same thing but they both ripen early).
I carried in two cherry tomatoes and gave one to my husband, and we munched. Tomato flavor burst over my tongue, titillated my taste buds, and met all my expectations. It was a total Tomato Mouthgasm. Summer is almost here, and I don’t have to buy tomatoes from the grocery store any more! Life is saWeet!
My next foray into tomatodom yesterday
What I’m looking forward to this summer! (This is the first bowlful from last summer.)
was tasting the first ripe Roma tomato from our bush. It was a tiny thing, but I split it into two and gave hubby the bigger half. Popped mine into my mouth. And all of a sudden, I was in Rome – I swear. And I could taste the garlic in the tomato. It had a flavor I’ve NEVER tasted in a Roma tomato, whether home grown or at the grocery store – but it had my mouth salivating for Italian food at six-something in the morning. Suddenly I understood why you should use Romas when making an Italian Gravy (or spaghetti sauce) or any Italian recipe that calls for tomatoes.
I guess you could say I had a tomato epiphany. I have seen the light when it comes to tomatoes, more so this week than any other. I am now eyeing the spot remaining, just big enough to take three more tomato plants. Romas, I think. And I’m pretty sure the hubby will agree with me.
Are you gardening this year? Let’s chat!
We’ve been planting for a few weeks now. Just added some zucchini, lemon cucumbers, more tomatoes, and some pumpkin seedlings that my dad gave me. Had to zap the zucchini and the cucumbers with organic bug spray (sounds weird, right?); hoping it works because I’m tired of my veggies getting eaten.
But before I show you the garden, here is my bulb bed – very happy with how it turned out!
The bulb bed…
The iris area the newest up. The daffodils are gone, as are the tulips; the freesia (red, in the foreground) seem to hang around the longest, and are definitely the most fragrant.
A spider daffodil (?).
Aren’t these sweet?
The hubs snuck some dainty tulip bulbs into my bed…pretty, isn’t it?
Here, though, is the star of the garden – the first to be picked for consumption, and the first to be done for the year.
Yep – it’s artichoke season!
See the baby artichoke, right below the bigger one? Yeah. We’ve got nine artichoke plants. Nine. That’s a lot of artichokes…
Below are the pumpkin plants my dad grew from seed. Not giant pumpkins, just regular ones – it’s gonna be interesting to see if we actually get some pumpkins this year!
Dad’s pumpkins, planted too close together. Oh well!
When they start vining, we’ll train the vines out into the yard.
The potato bed. Yum!
Potatoes are the easiest thing to grow. Once a potato in your pantry (or fridge, or wherever) starts budding, cut it up so each bud gets a chunk of potato, and toss them in the ground, bud side facing up. I planted these about a month ago.
Here’s a mixed bed that we planted last fall – kale to the left (the insects leave the kale alone), boysenberry in the back (though Tom tried to dig that out, it’s hard to dig berries out all the way), and beets in the front. Almost time to pull the beets, the berries haven’t started flowering yet, and I’m cooking with the kale right now.
So, that’s the highlight of the garden. What do you think?
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So, this past week I did not go to RWA National Conference. Nope. I didn’t stay up too late, drink too much, have great meals with wonderful friends, hug people I don’t see often enough. I didn’t pitch novels or jump up and down with glee with friends that had successful pitches, and I didn’t get to applaud the Rita and Golden Heart winners or console the losers.
Instead, I made tomato jam and applesauce and wrote my fingers off. It doesn’t seem to be a fair trade until I realize how happy my credit card is that I didn’t go!
So, it starts with tomato plants. The 20 plants I have in my yard yielded this:
Picked July 20, 2013
(and there is plenty more where that came from) This is only 3 pounds; I had to go out and pick more. So after my post last week about tomato recipes, the hubby says well, when are we making tomato jam? And so…this weekend it was time.
After roughly chopping tomatoes (no need to skin them, thank goodness), they all went into the pot, along with chopped onion, finely chopped green apple, cumin, coriander, salt, half cup of brown sugar and one and a half cups white sugar.
Everything in the pot, all stirred up. Let’s call it pre-jam…
As it cooked down, it tasted really yummy – hint of spice plus a hint of sweet. I was excited – there were so many possibilities with this tomato mixture. You could put it on nachos, spread it on sandwiches, use it with cheese and crackers…I wondered how many jars I’d get out of the deal. I had twelve 8 ounce jars in the canner, boiling. I’d have enough to give away to friends and family, and still have some left for us. I daydreamed as the mixture cooked down.
Finally, after two hours and change and lots of stirring so it wouldn’t stick to the bottom, we had jam.
I prepped the jars, filled them, wiped the rims…then put them in the canner and followed directions.
5 jars of jam!
After fifteen minutes, I pulled out the jars and wiped them before setting them on the towel-covered counter. It wasn’t the twelve jars I was hoping for, but five jars is better than none. Next time I’ll chop seven pounds of tomatoes instead of 3.5 pounds.
Note: We had some this morning with breakfast. And I was a bit disappointed in how sweet it was (well, hello 2 cups of sugar). Next time I’ll back off on the sugar, and maybe add another onion. Or some chili pepper, for an extra kick. I’ll still use what I have on nachos and etc, as the jam is definitely tomato-y and not strawberry-e, but I’m going to go for something a little spicier.
As for the applesauce? Four pounds of apples. 2 pints of sauce (cinnamon, no sugar). Here’s the proof.
It’s a darn good thing we have more apples on the tree…
So, while I didn’t get to run myself ragged for a week in Atlanta with a whole bunch of old friends and new friends and friends I’ve yet to meet, I did soothe my inner farmer gal by harvesting what we’ve grown, and saving it for another day. Seems a fair enough trade.
Thanks so much for stopping by. Until next time, cheers!
The Summertime Garden
I love all things gardening, but what do you do when your garden rewards your patience with abundance? It’s time to get into the kitchen.
The main reason to have a kitchen garden, to my mind, is for the tomatoes. There is nothing more fragrant than a tomato plant, nothing more luscious in the mouth than a sweet tomato warm from the sun.
Unless, of course, you nom nom down on the tomatoes while you’re standing outside, and tomato juice drips down your chin…yeah, if you haven’t done that, and you have extra tomatoes on hand, then do I have some recipes for you!
Luscious Cherry Tomatoes
This year, we planted three beds with tomato plants. The first bed to go in had the cherry tomatoes (5 plants), the Early Girl tomatoes (3 plants), and the Roma tomatoes (2 plants). Two weeks later, we added an heirloom bed – Mr. Stripey, yellow pear, Pink Brandywine, Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple, and a Mortgage Lifter. Two weeks later, Tom decided to toss in 4 more plants – all Better Boys. So – twenty tomato plants is enough – MORE than enough – for a family of four.
Here are some of my favorite recipes using fresh, home grown (or farm stand) tomatoes.
Tomato Salad (dead easy for anyone to make!)
- Chopped fresh tomatoes (1 – 4 cups)
- Chopped fresh basil, to taste
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Black Pepper
Chop as many tomatoes as you wish. You can either make just enough for the one meal, or enough to snack on for a couple of days. Depending on how many tomatoes you use, add in the chopped basil. Drizzle with a healthy amount of extra virgin olive oil, add fresh ground pepper, and mix well. Let stand for half an hour before serving, to allow flavors to meld. Just before serving, sprinkle lightly with salt.
This can be used as a salad, or as a bruschetta topping – toast small slices of sourdough, add the tomatoes, sprinkle with some fresh grated parmesan cheese. It will last a couple of days in the refrigerator; add freshly chopped tomatoes to perk it up if needed.
The first round of tomatoes, picked about a month ago.
Toasted Tomato, Onion and Cheese Sandwich (Another easy recipe!)
- Good quality sandwich bread
- Good quality sharp Cheddar Cheese (I like Tillamook)
- Home grown tomatoes, any flavor, sliced thinly
- Thinly sliced onion, broken into rings, as desired
Like any good toasted cheese sandwich, you want to butter the outside of the bread but not the inside. Slice the cheese thin enough to melt easily, and cover one slice of bread with the cheese. Add a slice or two of tomato; top with rings of onion if desired. Add one more slice of cheese and top with the bread. Butter the outside of the top slice of bread; add to smoking hot cast iron pan, buttered side down. Butter the outside of the top slice of the bread; flip the sandwich. Press down hard with a spatula in order to melt the cheese faster without burning the bread. Once the bread is golden on both sides and the cheese is melted, the sandwich is done.
If you like, make up a bunch of these and cut them in quarters – they make terrific appetizers.
Personal Tomato Tart (Getting a little more complicated, but not too bad…)
- Sheet of frozen Puff Pastry, thawed
- 1 egg yolk
- Olive oil
- 3 to 4 different varieties of home grown tomatoes, sliced
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- White sugar
- Black pepper
- 1 Tlb Fresh Basil, chopped
- Shredded Parmesan Cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. On a floured surface, open puff pastry and lightly roll. Cut through pastry to make four pieces. Within each piece, cut lightly (but not all the way through) a half-inch all along the edge to make a border when cooked.
Mix together the egg yolk, a couple of teaspoons water and a couple of teaspoons olive oil (measurements don’t need to be exact). Brush egg wash over pastry; using a spatula, move pastry to a cookie sheet.
Within the border made by your cut, arrange tomato slices. They can overlap, or they don’t have to; if you didn’t grow them yourself, try the heirloom varieties at the farm stands. Orange and red are pretty together, and the different tomato flavors meld beautifully. Once all the pastries have tomatoes on them, drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil, then sprinkle about a quarter of a teaspoon of white sugar on top. Using a pepper grinder if you have one, grind pepper over each pastry lightly.
Put in 350 degree oven and bake for 20 minutes. At that time, pull pastry out, top with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. Return to oven for another five minutes.
You can serve either hot, room temperature, or cold. Another terrific appetizer, too – make it using the entire puff pastry sheet, cut into 3″ squares after cooking, and you’ve got yourself a tasty treat.
Tomato Jam? Seriously! (Okay, you really have to like to cook!)
Saturday’s Tomato harvest – the small yellow ones are the lemon pear tomatoes, the small red ones are the cherry tomatoes, the two green and yellow striped ones toward the back are the Green Zebra, and the orangish one at the front right is the Mr. Stripey (but without stripes).
One last thing I like to do with tomatoes is make jam. Yes, you heard me. One year my dad had SO many tomatoes, that we made jam – and it was delicious. Sweet, yet tangy, it was just different enough that friends and relatives raved. I got the recipe from the box of pectin.
If you want more of a relish, try this Spicy Tomato Jam recipe at AllRecipes, or this fabulous (and a lot less work) recipe for Jennie’s Tomato Jam at Use Real Butter. (I think I’ll use Jennie’s this year!) The best thing about these two recipes is neither use pectin (in case you have a thing about pectin).
Are there other tomato recipes out there that you like to use? I’d love to hear from you about your summertime favorites, so drop me a line!
Until Next Time, Cheers!
I am in full-on ostrich mode.
This week, though I am clear on the other side of the country from Boston and have never been a fan of Texas politics (hey, I’m a California girl!), has been very hard on my spirit – and I would *never* wish such hell as those two places and the people who live there have gone through this week. It’s been hard on the spirit of everyone I know, for that matter. The news (such as it is) has been unrelenting.
So without further ado, let me share what I harvested from my garden yesterday with you.
Artichokes, a small green pepper, strawberries, green onions, and spinach, all fresh from the garden.
This made an excellent salad, and leftover spinach went into my morning green machine drink (which helps keep my spirits up). The onion smelled sharp and the spinach was so thick, deep green, and crisp. Packaged spinach pales in comparison.
The garden in March, 2013
This picture leaves out five or six of the new beds that Tom and the boys put in this year, off to the left. Most of those beds have tomatoes and zucchini in them. And the firepit (a repurposed dryer drum) is where we sit and drink wine and Tom plays guitar as the sun sets.
In the garden, there are birds and bugs, bees and butterflies and beauty everywhere I look. It is a place where I can take out frustrations as I weed, where I can sink my hands into soil that we’ve amended with our own mulch pile, where I can feel the sun on my back and the wind in my face. Where I can plant, to add a bit of beauty to the world that seems in desperate need of beauty.
I’m supposed to go to work, I’m supposed to go see a friend in her play tonight, I’m supposed to…so many things. All I want to do is be an ostrich for a day and stay in my garden (with my booted foot and all) and think on simple things. Beautiful things.
Shaun Rosenberg says that watching the news is bad for you, and he’s not the only one. Here’s another post at Disrupting the Rabblement on why watching the news is bad. James DelCamp Junior ALSO has a post on the news = bad. Google it yourself – you won’t run out of sites, trust me. It’s all over the place.
So I shall load up my car with music, and I shall ignore newsfeeds about the outside world. If I need to get caught up, it won’t take long. In the meantime, my bloodpressure and my anxiety level will go down about a million points or whatever by not focusing on all the bad.
You shall find me, metaphorically at any rate, in my garden, looking at the flowers that wintered over just beautifully.
My “hit of happy”.
And if I’m not in my garden, I’m cuddling the biggest cat I’ve ever seen. Zaphod is a polydactyl and he prefers to sleep draped across my chest. If the husband is home, he likes sleeping across Tom’s throat. But he purrs and he licks and he head butts me, and I love him to bits.
Zaphod, weighing in on our receipt filing system.
Here’s hoping your weekend is better than your week has been; here’s hoping next week will be a better one for our country.
Be good to one another. Spend your love rashly instead of hoarding it, for by spreading it around, more will come back to you. Till the next time, hugs!