Monday, August 15, 2011

Awash in Squash

The lessons from this little exercise have been amazing but the thing I absolutely need to remember next year, my sophomore season is to plant less squash plants.  I thought 4 little hills with 2 plants in each, how many will that be?  Not too much, I thought.  Is there a small army starving somewhere?  Can anyone volunteer to take these to Africa?  I harvested 9 large squash yesterday that my husband took to work and another 5 today, pictured below.  I walked up and down the street knocking on doors and meeting neighbors I haven’t met yet and giving them away.  Looking at the plants I realize we are going to be harvesting these cube of butter squash until we get frost.  This is the photo of the ones I harvested just today.


You can see that next to the tea spoon they are fairly reasonable sized.  I haven’t let too many get too big because they are tastier smaller.  Another thing I learned this year.  This particular variety is very mild in flavor and takes on whatever they are cooked with.  I have sautéed them with garlic, onion in white wine with some of the snap peas and beans then mixed with rice and shrimp for a healthy, tasty dinner that is making my mouth water while I write this.  I am going to to search on Squash recipes though – maybe someone has a good dessert bread made with them as I am hosting some quilting ladies to the house on Wednesday. 

Fortunately I choose the Royal Burgundy Beans and due to their wonderful color they are easy to find in with all the dark green leaves.  I definitely like the color coded produce to differentiate from the plant and will try to keep that in mind next year as well.  This photo shows what I harvested today.  This has been the largest daily harvest of beans yet and will be our veggie tonight.  I think steaming with garlic, one of the Walla Walla onions (below) in white wine will be a nice side dish with the wild caught Alaskan Salmon. 


My dog loves these beans and we eat them raw.  They are sweet, crunchy and guiltless.

The onions are starting to fall over so today I pulled out all the ones that had stalks that were predominately on the ground.  I planted two kinds, Cortland and Walla Walla.  The larger onions in the smaller quantity group are the Walla Walla and the larger quantity but smaller onions are the Cortland.  The first photo is right after I pulled them up:


After a gentle clean and cutting the roots and stalks off they are ready to be put in cool storage on the top of the wine storage in a room off our garage that seems to have a consistent temp in the mid 50’s.  I think they’ll store alright there and will generally be needed when we go for a bottle of vino too.


I don’t know if growing vegetables is supposed to be this easy or this successful, especially without chemicals, or if I am having beginners luck.  I have learned that the hardest part of a garden is getting the site prepared to be a garden.  Digging up the sod, breaking up the soil, improving the soil, building the walls, finding and pulling out bricks is back breaking work.  The daily effort to water and cut the gifts that are coming now is more like my private meditation time.  It is wonderful to be outside, to admire the speed that these plants grow, to watch the bees pollinating the plants, to hear the birds and feel the warmth of the sun on my body.  I even get a little exercise chasing the bunny out of the garden.  If you haven’t grown anything; grow lettuce, at the very least.  Don’t wait until you are over 50, to do it either.  It grows easily from seed and the taste is so amazing compared to anything you can buy in the store, even good grocery stores.

I hope my next entry will include some photos of tomatoes.  I have 2 plants, both cherry tomatoes, one orange and one red (I think) with at least 100 tomatoes on them but they are resisting ripening and day after day are still GREEN.  The few that have ripened have not made it into the house but have been popped into my mouth as sustenance for the gardener.  The same thing with the strawberries.  Not a large quantity of strawberries but the ones that have ripened are delicious and are eaten immediately.  Keep your fingers crossed that I can show and tell you about the Lemon Cucumbers.  Those plants have finally taken off and the largest fruit is nearly large enough to harvest. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011


I don’t want to discuss the cost, or the effort, involved, but we are eating now from the garden.  I am still grateful to live in a wonderful locale where there are others who will make sure we don’t starve, however.  Last week we had the most wonderful, crisp, fresh and BEAUTIFUL Swiss Chard.  We had organic hamburgers and I cut up the Swiss Chard leaves below and put them with some onion, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper inside a tinfoil envelope.  We cooked it on the top shelf of the grill for just a few minutes.  I should have photographed the dinner but we just wolfed it down, making all the same noises you hear when you watch Food Network.  It was so simple and steamed just perfectly. 


I started to cut some of the peas when I can find them.  I’m still a novice at this and need my veggies color coded so I can find them.  Tonight we’ll eat some of these peas along with some more that I’ll find this afternoon, on our salad.  I hope to remember to take some photos of the finished dishes, but don’t hold your breath.


Oh yeah, there have been a few strawberries along the way.  They don’t get far before they are sampled.  My loving husband has only gotten one so far.  Maybe next year, our yield will be larger but there are lots of flowers on the plants now.  We just need more hot days, I think.

According to the spreadsheet, today is the day the beets should be ready.  I could have pulled out the big ones and left the others to get bigger but since my sister is coming and she loves beets I just decided to harvest them all.  It was a very short row as you may recall from the plan.  I harvested several last weekend to give to my friend who also loves beets so this is not all the beets we got but is probably 75% of the total yield.  These were the easiest to grow of all except for soaking the seeds.  The greens look beautiful too and I have a huge bunch of beet greens in the refrigerator waiting for my sister and her wonderful ideas.


I took the smallest of the yield and roasted them for our salad tonight.  They are in the refrigerator now but here is what they looked like before the olive oil and the oven:


I think we’re going to be eating well tonight.  Wild caught Alaskan Salmon, fresh salad, Swiss Chard and some great bread with olive oil for dipping.  Does anyone notice that I LOVE olive oil? 

Lastly here is a photo of the garden taken today.  I can’t believe how large the plants get from such tiny seeds.  It’s truly a miracle, especially in my case!


I hope you all have wonderful family to share fantastic fresh food with.  Cheers!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Hooked, Totally Hooked

We’re returned to winter in the Pacific Northwest this weekend.  Just kidding.  It’s so rainy and chilly it feels more like early spring than the dead of summer.  Of course I’ve not lived here long, this is only my 4th summer, but it’s the first summer we’ve had green grass in July.  We don’t water grass here so we have green grass all year but in the summer it goes dormant when the rains stop.  Well, usually anyway.  I’m regretting not fertilizing the back lawn now. 

The rain has been like steroids for the garden though.  I am thinking when the sun returns tomorrow the plants will spring like an overwound clock.  Just in the last couple of days the plants have grown enormously.  The spinach has bolted so I will plant more seeds in the back part of the garden with all the lettuces and hope to get more before winter.  It’s the best tasting spinach I’ve ever eaten and I can feel the cholesterol dropping after each salad.  I’m hoping the lettuce plants and seedlings will produce soon as my husband is allergic to spinach so cannot join me in these fresh salads. 

If you click on any image, it can be made larger so you can see the plants more clearly. 


Above is the bolted spinach between the marigold and the squash plant.  Yesterday I dug up one of the beets.  It’s about 1 1/2 inches in diameter and the seed packet said they should be around 2” and my spreadsheet predicts they’ll be ready for harvest on July 28.  That’s perfect too, just in time for my sister’s visit and she loves beets.  Hopefully she’ll have lots of ideas of what we can do with them and will take some home with her.  I also have a friend who loves them so I know they’ll go to good homes.


The beets in the garden.  Not one leaf was touched by any kind of bug or bunny. 



The peas have flowers and I added another tee pee of bamboo sticks yesterday for their support.  They were growing on the tomato plant next to it.  I did try to minimize the absolute requirements for space and now am realizing why they suggested such large amounts of space for each thing.  I am optimistic however that it’ll all still grow and fortunately I am able to move about nimbly. 


Only a month or so ago this was just dirt with signs to keep me from stepping on the places where seeds were.  It’s truly amazing and I’m still pinching myself that someone who knows absolutely nothing about this might still be somewhat successful feeding herself and her family.  Of course there are still some weeks yet to go so I best not count my onions before they are harvested. 


I had to include a photo of the Swiss Chard.  Someone was having a good old feast on the leaves a week or so ago but the plants seemed to have survived and have grown enormously in the past few days with all the moisture and less intense sun.  I believe we’ll be eating Swiss Chard this week with one of our dinners.  I’ll let you know how it tastes.  I love the colors of these leaves. 

I’ve learned so much during this process.  I think the largest lesson is the one my Mother always said, “If you can read, you can do anything” and although I don’t think that is entirely true as I can read but can’t go to the moon, it is true that you can read about something and attempt it.  It feels so good to learn something new at any age.  I’ve also learned that I’ll never be so picky in a grocery store or famer’s market again.  If a leaf has a little hole in it but looks otherwise healthy, wash and eat away.  It feels really good to be crouched down to the level of the plants, getting my hands in the soil, cutting the leaves either for eating or to keep off the ground, the exercise and flexibility feels great.  It’s a great sore.  Watering and weeding can be therapeutic and give you time with your thoughts.  This experience has helped me heal from a huge loss this summer.  I’m hooked, today I ordered a kind of Fava Bean seed, another kind of pea seed and 2 kinds of garlic to plant over the winter.  I think I’ll be growing food until I can no longer bend down to do it.  I hope to still be doing this until my death.  I plan to include recipes or links to recipes as start to harvest with critiques about how easy they are to make and how tasty (or not) they are.

Monday, July 11, 2011


Today brings some success and some frustrations.  Something is eating the leaves of the Swiss Chard and it’s being rather a hog about it too.  I think maybe it is some kind of bug but can’t see any evidence on the leaves either on the top or underside.  My neighbor warned me that I wouldn’t have success with this so I’m just monitoring to see what is going to happen.  Since I am doing this organically I won’t use any pesticide on the plants.  They might just have a nice Swiss Chard feast this summer if I don’t figure out what to do.  I have been sprinkling around the garden and even around the plants with cayenne pepper and more recently chili pepper but worry that I might be doing some damage to the soil or the helpful bugs so will back off on that.  Today after weeding I touched my lip and it is still burning a bit so whatever is out there is still effective to retard the bunnies anyway.

The plants that still look incredibly healthy include the beets, onions, tomatoes, pepper plants, spinach, strawberries, beans, peas, squash and cucumbers.  This is a photo of the garden from the north looking down towards the street.


The squash plants have tiny little squash developing – they’re so cute:


Can you see the tiny yellow parts?  This plant is called Cube of Butter Squash and it sounds just delicious.  I’ll let you know when it gets time to harvest and ingest!


The strawberries are developing pretty well considering that we haven’t had that much heat and the plants only get about 5 hours of sunlight a day.  Not sure how much longer before they ripen.  I want to get them before the birds do.


This is what I suspect is the beginning of the bean on the bean plant.  The description said the beans are purple and turn green when cooked.  Since this is purple I think this might just be the bean.  Thank goodness someone realized that it helps the novices to have their vegetable plants color coded! 

Monday, July 4, 2011

4th July 2011 Garden Progress

Everything is going along pretty well in the garden with the exception of the carrots.  I believe a bunny is eating the leaves but if that’s all that doesn’t succeed, I’ll feed the bunnies the carrot tops.  The soil is rather rocky so who knows how nice the carrots would look anyway. 

We’ve had salad from the garden on a few occasions as the lettuce is doing well in the pots and the spinach is so tasty and growing abundantly.  Unfortunately my husband is allergic to spinach we realized, so I’ll probably turn into Popeye and be giving a lot to my friends and neighbors.  These salads have lettuces and baby spinach leaves, feta cheese, sunflower seeds and wonderful dressings.  I absolutely love the Organic Provencal Dressing from Fosse Farms.


The garden and blog have been a bit neglected.  I did water when it needed, removed the cages over the squash plants and weeded as necessary.  I was busy with a family health issue recently so forgive me for not posting.  I also put up a support for the beans and peas and added a tee pee for the peas today.  The peas and bean plants look healthy and are growing.  Even the bean plants that I thought had died are thriving so sometimes it’s good to just leave things alone and see if they come around, I guess.   


Today I finished digging up the grass out of the back 14 feet of the garden, raked the soil flat and added some soil to the garden.  I was so happy when the ice cream truck drove by and my loving husband gave me money to purchase a cone.  This digging is really tough work and I am always grateful when my body manages to survive it.  We are going to build a rock wall along the bottom of the fence and build up the garden back there a bit more.  This back part of the garden only gets about 4 hours of hot sunshine a day so I need to figure out what to plant there.  I would like to grow some garlic and peppers but don’t think the amount of sun will be adequate for peppers and not sure about garlic.  I’ll research this and see what my options are. 


This is the largest of the squash plants.  It’s actually 2 plants in one hill, and you can see one more plant behind it about 2 feet away.  There are 2 more hills to it’s right.  I haven’t seen any squash flowers yet but I’m hopeful we’ll see something this week. 


On the right in the photo is the spinach which is something I will do next year for sure.  It grows easily and is very tasty.  I’ve even given some of it away.  The other 5 plants are Swiss Chard and I’m hopeful we will be able to eat them soon as well.  I have a fantastic recipe from All Recipes that includes garlic and vegetable stock.  I want to try this recipe however: Spinach Swiss Chard Quiche as it sounds so yummy and has such fantastic reviews. 


For awhile I didn’t think I’d get tomatoes this year.  It’s been such a cold wet spring but alas I have a few 3/4” tomatoes on my Sweet Million plant and a few on the other plant which lost it’s label so it’s a Mystery Tomato now.  I guess I’ll just eat them when they turn red.  Next year I’ll be sure to be more careful when I purchase plants to get the label. 


Strawberry plants, can’t wait!  They’re growing well and have lots of flowers – the strawberries probably won’t make it into the house but will be my sustenance while I work in the garden.  I will hope for enough to actually share with another human being however.


How the garden looks today, celebrating the 4th.  I am happy to have survived the hot temperatures and the two hours digging and raking the remaining grass out. 

I hope you all had a wonderful 4th and have fresh food on your tables.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Moving Right Along

We’re finally having more warm days than cold days.  The plants seem to be growing and the netting is protecting the squash and cucumber plants.  Today I thinned the Swiss Chard and moved the seedlings that seemed like they might survive to another location behind the middle retaining wall.  As of right now they look a little under the weather so we’ll see if they survive the night.  I watered them twice today and they are now in the shade so I’ve got my fingers crossed. 


This shows the entire front 15 feet of the garden. Since most of the plants are still quite tiny it doesn’t look like much besides tomato cages and marigolds. 


This is the squash plants that will need to be thinned soon but the cage I put over isn’t so easily opened.  If I do another garden next year I’ll rethink this solution.


The spinach is the closest to being in our dinner.  I think the leaves could be harvested for baby spinach very soon, they’re close to 2” long now. 


The carrots have the cute little carrot leaves coming up.  The zig zag row is pretty evident but my thinning to 1” leaves a little to be desired.


Healthy bean plant.


What is going on with these?  I guess I need to research.  It’s been rather cold so maybe it got too cold the day these guys sprouted.  If I figure it out, I’ll keep you posted.


Peas look fantastic.


Beets too . . . I don’t want to hear any comments on my no so straight lines.  I’m just happy I can squat down at my age and do this.


I hope to get a few strawberries so I can eat them while pulling weeds.  I’ve been told to cover these with bird netting or expect them to be eaten first by the crows. 

I have to research fertilizing now too.  Some of the information I have is pretty decent, other times the information is so vague.  What does ‘regular fertilizer’ mean exactly?  Daily, hourly, monthly, every other week . . . seriously people, do you ever think that you have novices trying to feed themselves?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Frustration, Bricks & Cages

With the front part of the garden planted, I needed to work on the back 14 feet.  There was still grass and rocks that needed to be removed and more soil to be added.   Again, I questioned my sanity as I dug out the sod and attempted to get the soil out of the roots in the hot sun.  With such lovely soil it should have been easy, but I kept hitting very hard objects.  These hard objects were not small, moving the shovel over a couple inches did not work, I uncovered the first brick under six inches of soil and put it next to the garden.  Soon, I realized that I had uncovered a stash of bricks that were probably buried when the house was built.  After several hours working in this area I was still not done clearing the area, but my body was DONE.  It has not recovered yet but hopefully this week, my memory will forget about this, and I’ll be able to finish this part of the garden.


I was so quick to pat myself on the back with my seeds germinating and after just one day with the little squash leaves showing, they were pulled out.  Rabbits maybe, squirrels, who knows but they were strewn about like a tiny little hurricane went around my four mounds of squash plants.  O.K.  I thought, I can rise to the challenge.  With some bird netting and a short wire fence I created a cage for the four squash and one cucumber mounds. 


This cage appears to be working, the squash plants and the cucumber have germinated and are growing.  The unfortunate part is that it is not easy to get into this area to pull errant grass or weeds but for now I’m just going to let everything be. 


Two squash plants as of June 12.  Keep your fingers crossed!