Tag Archives: gardening

An oversight

As I wait anxiously for the ice to melt and the snow to stop falling and Old Man Winter to withdraw his frosty tentacles and release me, I am disheartened to see that last year’s garden, which should have really been the star of the summer, never got its chance to shine. In this blog, that is. In real life, it gave me joy and wonder everyday. Somehow I managed never to document it, though. 

I will try to remedy that mistake by posting pictures from last summer’s garden as I start planning for this year. I hope to draw inspiration, learn from mistakes, and beat the winter doldrums away. 

This beautiful little flower looks like it’s just about to take wing and fly. It looks like a sort of sweet pea, and was an absolute delight in a little patch in front of my porch. 



Stay tuned for more!

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It’s been a long and lonely winter

Friends, it’s been one of those years. Tough times all around, and now the continuing drudgery of day after day of ice and snow is really starting to wear on me. Spring, I’m sure, is on its way. Maybe took a wrong turn somewhere, maybe decided on an unplanned pit stop – but on its way somewhere.

I’ve been trying to beat the drudgery by perusing and flipping through seed catalogs over and over again. Kitazawa, Seed savers exchange, Annie’s annuals, Bountiful Gardens, Horizon Herbs, and of course the ever inspiring Renee’s gardens have all been the recipient of remarkable shares of my attention, especially during this month of working nights.

I’m excited about this year’s planting selection – some dwarf tomatoes, a few slicers and sauce tomatoes, several cucumbers and peppers, and a whole host of wildflowers. This year we’re thinking about doing much more container gardening and only putting greens, herbs and flowers in the ground. Last year’s containers did beautifully, as you can see in this post. In our rocky rental soil, only a few plants could really thrive – a few Dragon’s Tongue bean plants, a Golden Cherry tomato, 5 varieties of kale that produced from May straight through to the end of November, and a lemon thyme that is somehow, miraculously, still poking its green head out through layers of snow and ice into the -10F air.

I’m looking forward to things getting a little warmer. My dad, who is in a much warmer climate, has started his seeds – some of them outdoors, no less! I’m sending him a few more seeds for his collection, a selfish venture as I hope to experience an early vicarious spring!

Here’s a few of the dwarf tomato seeds I have for my dad, along with a drying variety.

 

Here’s hoping my next post will start with a joyous “Here comes the sun!”

Propagating herbs, or, How to turn one plant into ten

I, probably like most of you, love a good pesto. The tastes of fresh basil, pine nuts and garlic come together in a smooth , green paste that coats each piece of pasta in a rich cloak of flavor – ah, what a glorious meal.

But who has that much basil lying around? You could buy it. But store bought basil is usually wilted, covered with pesticides, and expensive. Or you could grow it yourself. But giving one plant a haircut might give you enough pesto to feed your baby. Or your goldfish.

What if I have five or six plants, you might ask me. And I’d tell you that’s a great idea. Herbs can be hard to grow from seed, though. Plants can be expensive to buy. And ultimately, nothing will give you the satisfaction of growing your own plants, we all know that.

Propagating herbs like basil is easy – a piece of cake, really. It’s as simple as cutting a stem, putting it in water and then planting it.

Last year we had multiple basil plants – Thai basil and genovese. Over the winter, we took some cuttings and tried to keep them alive. Sometime during January, we lost most of them – but one little sweet basil survived in my neighbor’s house. Now it’s overgrowing its pot so S took a couple of cuttings and sat them in a glass of water in the windowsill. As expected, they grew lovely roots. Now we’ve got two nice little potted basil plants that look thrilled to be alive.

We also bought basil plants this year, a cinnamon basil and a Thai basil. A mistake I made last year was to not pinch off the stems early enough or often enough. Pinching off encourages more side shoots, leading to bushy growth and ultimately, more herbs for your cooking. As I was pinching off, I found myself with a bunch of basil stems and nowhere to put them. It wasn’t enough to cook with, but composting them seemed like a big waste. I popped them in a glass of water, and lo and behold – roots!

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They are now happily potted up, sitting in my kitchen window. The parent plants are sending out plenty of new growth, I have 4 new plants, and they smell fantastic.

Propagating your herbs is an inexpensive, quick way to multiply your plants. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Make sure you pinch or cut neatly without crushing the stem. Also make sure that you cut right above a leaf node, where one stem meets two leaves. This ensures that the plant sends out two shoots in the place of one. And be patient – roots can take a week or two to grow.

What plants do you propagate?

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Asiago crusted penne with crimini mushrooms and garden greens

When I was a little girl with pigtails and Mary Janes, we lived in suburban Texas, where as the saying goes, the tallest thing on the horizon is a Coke can. There are vast expanses of grass, dotted in the spring and summer with dandelions and little purple flowers – I still don’t know what they’re called. I’d bring bouquets of these flowers home for my mother on my way home from the school bus stop, and she’d put them in a little glass everyday.

I soon learned that dandelions were ‘weeds’, and I stopped thinking of them as having any value. As I grew older and started seeing dandelion greens for sale in high end grocery stores, I was convinced that we weren’t all talking about the same plant. Why on earth would someone pay good money to buy weeds? As it turns out, though, people do. And for good reason.

Dandelion greens are rich, flavorful, and apparently quite nutritious. Now I have my own backyard and garden, with those pesky dandelions taking up way too much space. I pull them up dutifully, and they come right back. Today, I thought to myself, why not see if this dandelion green thing works for me? I’m pulling them up anyway, what if I just throw them in dinner?

I was not disappointed.

Thrown together with garlic shoots also foraged from the garden (another story for another day), a tomato and a sweet Italian pepper, the greens made a lovely addition to a simple weeknight meal – let’s see what S has to say.

A handful of dandelion greens – try to use the smaller inside leaves before the plant flowers, they’re more tender and less bitter – went into a cold water bath with garlic shoots from the yard.

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Crimini mushrooms have a nice round flavor that balances the bitter greens perfectly. Sauté them with olive oil, salt, and crushed red peppers.

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In the meantime, boil water and cook your pasta till al dente. I used penne, but you can use anything small – farfalle, orecchiette, even elbow macaroni would work.

Rinse your greens well. Garden greens are delicious but are covered with grit and soil. I rinsed about 4 times, I suggest you do the same. Chop or tear them into smaller pieces.

Wilt the greens in the pan. I use cast iron so it can go straight into the oven. Add a diced pepper or two if you’d like. We got some beautiful artisan red peppers at the market last week. This seemed like the perfect place to use up the last one.

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Add a dollop of ricotta and herbs of your choice – I went for thyme and oregano – and stir in the pasta.

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Finally, toss with a handful of mozzarella and top with Asiago and pop it in the oven.

It only took about 20 minutes, and made for a delicious meal.

Who knew?

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Looking in the cracks

It’s so easy to let life pass you by – to let small things weigh you down, to miss life as it’s happening. There’s a story I read in 9th grade English called ‘The Falling Girl’, a parable by Dino Buzzati warning heavyhandedly against the mistake that we all make.

“‘You have your entire life ahead of you,’ they told her, ‘why are you in such a hurry?’
…She made an attempt to answer but the force of gravity had already quickly carried her to the floor below, then two, three, four floors below….”

Life has been like that lately. Working long hours has me in the doldrums, often making me forget that there is life outside the hospital. I spend time in my little gardening space, often daydreaming about a big flat yard in the South where I could grow to my heart’s content. But really, I know I miss so much of my life by doing that. It’s the little things: the one new budding leaf on a tomato seedling, a tiny dandelion bud, a bird perched on the feeder, readying herself for warmth and new life. THAT is life. THAT is why life is worth it.

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Life seeps through broken concrete and under rocks. It happens in spite of us, in spite of itself. Celebrate it, love it, live it.

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Happy Easter!

Today in the garden

Spring is really here now! Cool wet days, damp and heavy nights with early morning fog – it really gives perspective. Years ago I would have been disappointed with such weather, especially in temps of 50’s. But now, I actually did a happy dance on my porch.

Tomato seedlings are coming up, slowly sending out baby true leaves – it’s time to transplant them!

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Snowdrops – a little late but one little guy looks like he made it.

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And violets – the joy of those little faces peeking up. Doesn’t it look like this little face is telling us to have hope?

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A happy and beautiful Crocus!

“…Then from my heart will young petals diverge, As rays of the sun from their focus; I from the darkness of earth shall emerge, A happy and beautiful Crocus! Many, perhaps, from so simple a flower, This little lesson may borrow, Patient today, through its gloomiest hour, We come out the brighter tomorrow.”

from Smiles  by Miss H. F. Gould in The Poetry of Flowers, 1832. >

Seed starting!

I’m on vacation at my parents’ house, which means early gardening for me! Spring has already come to the South, and with it warm weather and the smell of the earth.

I get my love of gardening from my dear old dad, and he’s just as excited as me about starting the spring garden. We did some indoor sowing and some outdoor today.

Here’s what we planted:

Okra
Three varieties of eggplant – Ratna, Shiva and Black Beauty
Two varieties of bottle gourd – Bhim and Alok
Kale
Lettuce
Swiss chard
Cabbage
Bitter gourd

Exciting!

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