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The last snow?

Yesterday morning I went to my neighbor’s farm to pick up a larger container for the chicks. It had snowed the day before, and the fog and morning light made everything look magical. It’s days like this that make me so grateful to live in this part of the world.

We got chicks!

We got four chicks- two Black Australorp and two Rhode Island Red. I’m VERY EXCITED! They’re cheeping away in our dining room right now, as they can’t move outside to a coop for another 5 or 6 weeks. We also bought a coop, which will be delivered in two weeks, as next weekend Jeff won’t be here to help move it. My job until then is to clear out the coop area and maybe get some wire netting and build out a larger run for them.

Goodbye Winter

There’s been a shift the past two weeks. I can feel Spring humming in the air, just on the edge of arriving for good.

While we had a big snowstorm last week, this week the temperatures have been in the high 40’s and low 50’s, and the light seems brighter.

I optimistically started seeds, and most everything has germinated, minus the eggplant which I may need to try again with heat mats.

This weekend I’ll start the tomatoes and peppers, and will maybe start kill mulching grass for new beds. We also have spring bulbs coming in! Some of the daffodils that I divided last year are coming in- I’m curious to see how many survived! I’m also seeing one bulb come in by the driveway, and hopefully more will follow. I can’t wait to see them bloom!

Full seed list, 2015

Yesterday, I went to Roher’s Seeds in Lancaster and vowed never to order seeds online again. I went a little overboard looking at the beautiful Rare Seeds catalog and probably bought more than I should. Roher’s seeds has a great selection from Baker Creek, Renee’s, and other seed companies, as well as their own (usually cheaper, too!). They had a huge selection of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, and all the accessories real gardeners would need. I must admit, I did buy a few more seed packets, but now I swear I’m done!

First to sow, this week hopefully, will be eggplant, artichoke, onion, rhubarb, and leeks. Here’s the full list (‘trial’ indicates free seed pack sent by seed company and not something I ordered). As you can see, it’s a pretty big mix of flowers, herbs, and vegetables. I hope it’s a success!

Arugula- Wasabi
Asparagus - Millenium
Baby’s Breath- Covent Garden
Basil - Emily
Basil - Thai Holy Kaprao
Brussels Sprouts - Long Island Improved
Carrot - Parisienne (trial)
Carrot- Kuroda Long 8
Cauliflower- Erfurter
Chamomile - German
China Rose, Angel Wings.
Chives (chinese)
Cilantro, Slo-Bolt
Collard Greens - Morris Heading
Columbine - McKana’s Giant Mixed Colors
Corn, Sweet Stowell’s evergreen (trial)
Cress- Garden
Crown Vetch
Cucumber - National Pickling
Cucumber- Barse (trial)
Dill- Vierling
Dill- Dukat
Dock/ Bloody, Sorrel
Eggplant- Fengyuan Purple
Eggplant- Mitoyo
Golden Purslane
Ground Cherry
Hyssop, Blue
Johnny Jump-up
Leek - Giant Musselburgh
Melon - Charentais
Mustard Greens -Japanese Giant Red
Mustard Greens, Black
Nasturtium - Alaska Mix
Nasturtium- Amazon Jewel
Nasturtium- Rainbow Whirlybird
Onion- He Shi Ko Bunching
Oregano, Wild Zaatar
Pepper - Tabasco
Pepper - Thai Hot
Pepper- Early Jalapeno
Pepper- Fish
Radish - Easter Egg II blend
Radish- Japanese Minowase Daikon
Rhubarb- Glaskins Perpetual
Shiso (Perilla Purple Zi Su)
Snow Pea- Carouby De Maussane
Sorrel, Green De Belleville
Squash - Sweet Dumpling
Squash- Kakai
Squash, Black Futsu
Sunflower - Evening Sun Mixed Colors
Sweet Peas - perfume delight
Swiss Chard, Bright Lights
Tarragon, Russian
Thyme, Wild
Tomato - Old Fashioned Goliath Hyb
Tomato- Jersey Devil
Tomato, Amish Gold Slicer
Tomato, Artisan Mix
Tomato, Bush Beefsteak

The danger of buying seeds online

The danger of buying seeds online is that you don’t quite realize how much you’ve ordered until it’s in your hands…

I may have gone a little overboard this year. My plan was to focus on perennial herbs and vegetables, followed by self-seeding herbs and beneficial flowers, and finally to throw in a few just-for-fun vegetables that would be impossible to buy anywhere in stores. Then I would see how much energy I have for vegetable gardening (as opposed to the shrubs and perennial flowers that I focused on last year) and if I decided it wasn’t for me, I’d at least have some self-sufficient perennials and self-seeders established, and maybe a couple interesting veggies too. Well, I did stick to that plan, but I may have bought about 50% more than I really need. I’m not sure that I can actually plant all this seed this year, but it will be an adventure to see if I can!

This is my “wet guild”. It’s herbs and vegetables that need a lot of water and a lot of sun, and/or will work well together. I’ll be putting this right next to our back patio, where the hose is. I’ll need to double-dig an entirely new garden bed for this!

On the left is the ‘moderate water’ and on the right is the ‘tolerates dry’. These will be on the South side of the house, where I planted some lavender last year. This area is partially dug and mulched, but I will need to extend the bed further.

This area will be to the left of my current herb bed, next to the forsythia hedge. My plan is to deep mulch the grass with layers of mushroom compost, newspaper and cardboard, and straw, and then either dig small holes and fill with compost for individual plants, or just grow from soil bags on top of the mulch. Then next year when the grass is dead, I’ll dig it all in.

And finally, I’m considering getting some chickens this year! I’m picky about where I get them from (I do not want to give money to a commerical/ factory hatchery where the chickens aren’t treated well, are crammed in too tightly, and all the males are killed). I’ll need to find someone with a flock that is too large that they want to divide, or maybe someone who tried chickens last year and decided they weren’t for them. I may not find anyone selling young chickens this year, but if the opportunity arises, I’ll jump on it. “Chicken Land” would be back underneath the pine trees, and out into the lawn a little, for sunshine. There’s a very large area back there that they can free roam as they like (I would probably divide it into paddocks, it’s so large) and then I’d let the chickens totally free range in the garden with supervision. I’m excited at the possibility of more funny pets, fresh eggs, bug control, compost assistance, and lovely mulch.

Polyculture vegetable guilds

This is what the garden looks like in January and February. The snow is actually mostly melted at the moment, but we’re due to get more soon. Needless to say, I am still snuggled up inside with my seed catalogs, trying to plan.

I just put in a big seed order and am now trying to figure out how to plant them all! I want to plant a polyculture garden, with herbs, vegetables, and flowers all together. Many plants do better when they have a variety of other ones around them. It decreases pests and improves the soil. However, it gets really complicated! Here are all the things to consider:
- Height of plant
- Sun requirements
- Water requirements
- Soil requirements
- How deep the roots are (you don’t want to put a lot of deep-rooted plants close together)
- Nitrogen fixing (some plants are good for this, so you want to sprinkle them around evenly)
- How many days until harvest (for the annuals)
- Which plants are beneficial to each other (like basil deterring aphids on tomatoes)
- Which plants are bad for each other (like dill and fennel which will cross-pollinate in a bad way)

I’m going to put together what are called “guilds” of plants that will do well together. Then I’m going to order these guilds according to water and sunlight needs, putting the plants that need the most water closest to my garden hose, and the ones that need the most sun on the Southern-most end of the garden. For now, I’m writing a spreadsheet with all the info I’ve collected, and when I get my seed order in I’ll take the info from the seed packets and add to that. I’ll report back when I have my guilds figured out!

Winter Planning

As the garden wound down for the winter, so did I. It appears I’ve left this blog hanging for a few months! Truth be told, I haven’t been up to much. No big home projects, not much garden planning for next season. I’ve been working a lot, and Autumn sped by with a flurry of birthdays and holidays and anniversaries. I’m not sure how a full year in this house went by so quickly! I did take on one big new project: cooking a weekly meal for some of my neighbors. I make extra portions of my Sunday night dinner and package it up, to be picked up on Monday. All the meals are vegan and gluten free, and it’s been a real challenge to come up with something new and exciting each week that is as seasonal and local as possible. I’ll probably do some more blog posts about it in the future.

Now it’s the end of January and truly time to hunker down and sort out my plan for next year’s garden. My mother bought me a book on permaculture three years ago, when I started my first (failed) vegetable garden. The book was interesting, but as I was renting at the time and very (very!) new to gardening, it was a bit over my head. I re-read the book last year when we moved into our house, but as permaculture is very big on tailoring your projects to the specific site, and I knew nothing about the land yet, the book was again a bit too much for me. Now we’ve lived here a full year and I read the book for the third time and things have started to click into place.

Last year, I focused on establishing large ornamental shrubs that would give some additional structure to the garden. I added hydrangea, lilac, butterfly bush, azalea, dogwood trees, and rhododendron. I also planted a lot of perennial flowers donated by my neighbors. Hopefully this year they will have all stayed happy, and I’ll have bursts of color and fragrance in all corners of the yard. This year, I want to focus on edibles. Specifically, perennial edibles. Last year I did plant two blueberry bushes (one died) and an elderberry. This year I’ll be adding asparagus, artichoke, and rhubarb. I’ll be planting a lot of herbs, as I am still inspired by our Longwood visit in September. I’ll also be adding lots more fruit– currants, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, elderberries, and apple and pear trees. Finally, I will plant some vegetables- mostly ones that are either impossible to get in the stores/ at the CSA, or that I already have seeds for.

I’m not sure if I posted about my disastrous first vegetable garden, but now seems like an appropriate time to mention it.

We were renting a house on a 5 acre property. This garden was walled on two sides with the barn on the third, and the driveway on the fourth. We were surrounded by woods, so there were a lot of deer, but I thought because this area was walled and close to the house, they wouldn’t come in. There was an old bed (on the left there) that had been used by our landlord’s father for propagating new plants. We built two more raised beds. I was very enthusiastic and said I’d grow all our vegetables for the summer! Unfortunately, groundhogs discovered the plot, and ate everything down to the ground. Additionally, I had put in raised beds in a giant weed patch and did nothing to suppress those weeds. I was weeding constantly and couldn’t stay on top of anything. The only plants that did okay were the tomatoes. At the end of the season, I was discouraged. What’s the point, if everything is either eaten by animals or insects, or strangled by weeds? It was too much for me. I couldn’t keep up and I was over my head.

When we moved to our current house, I decided that I didn’t want to do vegetables ever again. I joined a local CSA and got amazing produce all throughout the spring and summer last year. It was wonderful! I planted nothing but shrubs and flowers. Weeds weren’t so much of an issue. I loved gardening much more than in my weedy vegetable plot two years prior, and started to feel more confident. Now that I’ve been here a year, and have also had success with gardening, I think I am ready to tackle vegetables again.

My first plan is to layer mulch all along the Southern side of our house. I’ll layer mushroom compost (I found a place to get it for free if I can haul it out!), cardboard, straw, and wood chips on top of the grass. I won’t be able to plant much this first year until the mulch breaks down and kills the grass, but I can plant annual vegetables in bags of topsoil sitting on top of the mulch and then work in that soil at the end of the season. I can also cut through the cardboard and dig in plenty of compost for the berry bushes and trees, and can extend my herb bed as well. I will also plant herbs in the flower beds, and grow snow peas along the fence line. I’ll mulch as much of the garden as I possibly can. Jeff hates mowing, and I hate seeing huge expanses of grass, so it’s win-win. I think hauling in all the soil and hay will be a lot of work, but hopefully I can get it done early in the season when I’m feeling enthusiastic.

I haven’t done my seed order yet, but I did order my berry bushes for Nourse:

- 25 Millenium Asparagus
- 1 Ben Sarek currant
- 1 Jonkheer van Tets currant
- 1 Samyl and 1 Samdal elderberry
- 1 bluecrop blueberry
- 1 Jersey blueberry
- 5 Prime Ark blackberries
- 5 Caroline raspberries

Fresh Fava Bean and Heirloom Cherry Tomato Bruschetta on Grilled Sourdough

I’m learning to love baking bread. I remember the first time I made my own bread four years ago, I was so pleased with the results that I swore I’d never buy bread ever again and would always make my own. After the revelatory first loaf, I didn’t make another for a year. The kneading and timing of the different rises was just too finicky for my slapdash cooking style. Since then, I’ve discovered no-knead bread and it’s changed my life. Gone are the days of cramped hands and not being able to eat fresh-out-of-the-oven bread at lunchtime. I just stir together some flour, water, and yeast before I go to bed, shape it again when I wake up, and bake for lunch. It’s amazing.

After I got the hang of no-knead bread, the next thing that I really wanted to conquer though was sourdough. I love the yeasty tang in sourdough bread (I love pretty much anything extra-zingy, really) and so I made a wild-yeast sourdough starter as per the instructions in The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which is an amazing bread baking resource. I patiently fed the starter for a few weeks until it was ready, and then I substituted one cup of flour and one cup of water in the no-knead recipe with 1 cup from my puddle of sourdough starter. The bread rose- without yeast!- and the texture was good, but it wasn’t sour. I kept the sourdough starter alive for a few more months, but never got sour bread out of it, and so eventually I threw it away.

I decided that the best thing to do would be to buy someone else’s tried-and-true sourdough starter, so I got this. I’ve been feeding it for a couple weeks now, and finally it was big enough to pull a cup out for a loaf of no-knead sourdough bread.

The loaf was beautiful. There was decent crumb, the crust crisped up, and it rose enough without any yeast. But when I sliced into it and tried it, it was sour. I’m talking mouth-puckering, super-sharp sour. Obviously this new sourdough starter is the real deal, and the polar opposite of my previous bland attempt. One cup of this sourdough starter in a no-knead recipe is about twice as much as there should be. I’m worried it won’t rise enough, but I’ll be doing some experimenting soon. In the meantime, I had to find something to do with this extra-sour bread. The flavor would overwhelm any sandwich recipe, and I do like sour, so I wanted to find something that would work with the flavors instead of competing.

Yesterday I went to Whole Foods. I haven’t shopped there in months- all my veggies come from my local CSA, and I have a decent grocery store near me where I can get the basics, and Whole Foods is about half an hour away, so it’s a bit more driving than I usually like to do for groceries. However, I needed to stock up on some staples that my regular store doesn’t have- faro, different weird dried beans, amaranth, Israeli couscous. When I was there, I decided to just do a little browsing of the produce aisle. You know, just to take a look around. Of course this resulted in a handful of impulse buys- vegetables I had no idea what to do with and no plan for whatsoever, but that looked just so tempting that I had to try them. The first of these was fresh fava beans. I’ve never had them and never made them, but they were calling to me, so I bought them.

Fresh fava beans are kind of a pain. I learned this after I bought them. You have to pull the beans out of the shell, then you need to boil them for two minutes, then you need to shock them in ice water, and then you need to peel the skin off each individual bean before you can use them in a recipe. I dutifully shelled a bowl of beans, and tried one. It was delicious! Earthy, nutty, green, fresh– every flavor of summer in one al-dente bite.

The weather is turning here; it’s on the cusp of fall, teetering back and forth and unable to decide. My CSA gave me a box of heirloom cherry tomatoes this week, one of the last before summer is truly over. When I was eating my first fresh fava bean, I imagined popping a bright, sweet cherry tomato in my mouth with it; a good balance of earthy and sweet. I thought about making a salad with a bright, acidic vinaigrette and fresh greens, and then I realized I had something else I could use instead of vinegar– sourdough!

I grilled the sourdough with olive oil, so it was charred, smoky, sour and crunchy. The fava beans and tomatoes are tossed with flaked salt, fresh-ground pepper and garlic, a balance of sweet, salty, soft, crunchy, nutty and sweet. If you don’t have extra-sour sourdough, you might want to add a hint of vinegar with the beans and tomatoes. This would still be amazing in a salad, too, with hard-boiled eggs and croutons.

Fresh Fava Bean and Heirloom Cherry Tomato Bruschetta on Grilled Sourdough

1 lb fresh fava bean pods
1 cup diced heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
1 tsp flaked sea salt
several twists of fresh-ground black pepper
4 thick slices of sourdough

Set a small pot of water on the stove to boil. Split the fava bean pods and pull out the beans and set aside. Prepare a bowl of ice water.
When the water is boiling, add the beans and boil for two minutes. Drain and blanch in ice water, let cool.
In the meantime, chop the cherry tomatoes into quarters and place in a bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper.
When the fava beans have cooled, carefully pull aside the skins and pop the beans out. Add the beans to the tomato mixture, stir well, and then mash with a fork a few times to let the flavors really mix together.
Heat up a cast-iron griddle on high and generously brush both sides of the sourdough with olive oil. Grill the sourdough for a couple minutes per side, until there are charred grill lines and the bread is warmed.
Pile a few tablespoons of the bean and tomato salad on top of the sourdough, and enjoy!

Changing With the Seasons

I got the August blahs when it came to the garden. It was hot, I felt like I’d been doing so much for so long, I just lost interest. My mulch pile is still a pile, my rock pile is also still a pile, the weeds are growing fast, and I just haven’t touched anything. Around the same time, my neighbors approached me with the idea of cooking them some extra portions of meals I make at home, so I’ve been caught by the cooking bug recently instead of the gardening bug. Luckily, I’m also starting to feel more interested in the inside of our house again, for the first time in months. It seems like as the weather cools and summer winds down, I’m more interested in making our house cozy.

So instead of lots of exciting garden updates and changes, here are some other things I’ve been enjoying:

New silverware and new plates!

Even more plates! I got all these for $100, can you believe it? Also my stash of cookbooks waiting until I find them a better home, and my seasonal glass pumpkins!

And flowers from the garden.

What I learned at Longwood

I’m incredibly lucky to live only 15 minutes from Longwood Gardens, arguably one of the best public gardens in the country (and some say even in the world). We had a membership last year but didn’t go as often as we should have, as the kids had gotten tired of it once they had explored each and every corner more than once, so we let the membership lapse. We still had guest passes though, and yesterday we used them.

Most people applaud Longwood for their conservatory and formal gardens, but I found myself drawn to something very different when I visited.

Yep, this is their herb patch. I found this far more interesting and visually beautiful than their neon-bright annual beds or topiary.

In my previous post, I mentioned that I want to focus more on foliage in my own garden beds, and this is the solution. The herbs look so full and interesting, smelled amazing, and were hosts to a ton of happy insects.

I love the contrast of colors, shapes, and textures here, and the humble daisies, purple coneflowers and black-eyed susans in my own flower bed will look right at home among herbs like these.

We especially liked their varieties of sage, and I’ll be adding more to my garden very soon. The sage that I have in my own herb bed is seriously happy (and crowding out the oregano), and so I may divide it up and plant it around my flower beds this weekend.

I also liked this combination of feverfew and lamb’s ears, both low-growing plants that would look excellent as edging in my flower beds.

Other plants I was interested in adding to my garden:
- Wide-leaf sea lavender (beautiful frizzy plant with pale silver-purple colors)
- Yarrow (I have some, but would like to add more- the yarrow we saw had great height!)
- Cowslip
- Chinese anenomie (the flowers looked like old-fashioned roses!)
- Angelonia (interesting purple flowers, similar to phlox)
- Oxalis (for it’s lovely purple foliage)
- Coleus (Jeff thought the pink, white, and green leaves were too much but I think it would be nice among some more toned-down plants)
- Oregano (beautiful ground cover, this variety was very small)
- Horseradish (huge big leaves, really interesting looking- and I LOVE to eat horseradish too!)

As you can see, my list is pretty humble. Who would have thought I’d go to Longwood and only end up wanting common garden sage?