Sow: Spring 2016 experiments

IMG_9949

Repurposed washtub planter with sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano

If you’ve read any of my gardening posts (the Sow ones), you already know that I really don’t know what I’m doing. Sure, I’ve been planting and harvesting stuff in North Texas for a few years now, but it’s always a bit of a crapshoot. Trial and lots of error. Lots of error.

 

Herbs always have done very well for me, especially during the cooler months (November-February).

 

IMG_9948

The kitchen herb planter had a fantastic winter. Parsley is bolting but the flowers are pretty.

 

Of course, cooler is never a given, even during the winter here. I barely had to cover the garden at all which is unusual for North Texas—there are usually a few days of very cold weather, ice or even snow.

No snow/ice days for us this year.  The unpredictable weather here is always a challenging variable, but I also like to make it hard on myself by trying new things.

 

For spring and summer 2016, I’ve planted some of my favorites (aka plants that have grown well for me):

Bell peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

 

IMG_9963

Jalapeno peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens), shown here with a rogue red romaine lettuce

IMG_9965

Anaheim chilis (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9964

Basil (transplants from Trader Joe’s)

IMG_9954

Sweet 100 tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9951Okra (seeds from Botanical Interests) — still tiny because it’s not hot enough for their usual fast growing

IMG_9959Black eyed peas (seeds from last year’s harvest that were from plants grown from Botanical Interests seeds) — even tinier than the okra so not shown.

Shishito peppers (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9958

514p2oBCuZL.jpg

I’ll be planting tomatillo seeds (from Sweet Corn Garden Organics) very soon—probably this weekend. Just waiting for it to get slightly warmer during the daytime hours. The plants grow like weeds here and I make a lot of salsa verde, so this year I’m planting double the amount I planted last year.

 

 

And now, without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to my 2016 experiments:

Artichoke (transplant from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9957Black Bean (transplant from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9950

Arkansas Traveler tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9955

Mortgage Lifter tomatoes (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9953Flying Saucer squash (transplants from North Haven Gardens)

IMG_9956Fingers crossed for a successful growing season! And for keeping Gidget from eating all the plants!

IMG_9967

IMG_9962

although I have netted and fenced the fig tree, it looks like there are just a few figs left for spring. luckily it is sprouting more which should be ready in the summer.

IMG_9961

And maybe we will have plums this year too — Gidget and Godiva are doing a fine job of squirrel scaring.

 

 

 

Sow: green sauce

Happy July 4th and happy post-Canada Day! It’s the time for celebration! Fireworks!* Parties! Eating!

Remember when you were a kid and the summer was the fun time of year when you could do whatever you wanted to do. Every. Single. Day. Eating ice cream and watermelon (spitting the seeds when your mom wasn’t looking). Riding your bike. Swimming from dawn to dusk. Staying up late. Running around and playing outside.

Even though this grown up is mostly enjoying this summer in the over air conditioned comfort of a concrete and glass box, I’m trying to make the most of the sunshine and fun that comes with the season. Like right now: I’m sitting at the patio table (yes, we get wifi outside!), enjoying the sounds of summer (leaf blowers and birds chirping), admiring the jungly Urban Farm and watching the Gs lounge about.

It’s been fun seeing old pals (right, Helen, Christine, Fred and Chris?), meeting new ones (that’s you, Cam, Jon, and Louie), enjoying an amazing harvest on almost a daily basis, enjoying long walks with Bruce and the Gs, exploring new parts of Dallas, and yes, enjoying tasty treats. Luckily for us, lots of yummy stuff is coming directly from the Urban Farm.

IMG_5416

the first tomatillos with their husks still on. in the supermarket the husks are usually pretty dried out and more brown. they are also $2.99/lb at our local Albertsons.

One of those treats has to do with my tomatillo experimentation. I’ve harvested about 1 1/2 pounds of tomatillos  so far with more to come (so about $4.50 worth if you’re shopping at Albertsons). I planted them so I could make jars of homemade salsa verde (literal translation is “green sauce”.)

I’ve never really made it before—or knew how bountiful the plants could be. Usually I just pick up a jar at the grocery story.

When we got the latest issue of Bon Appetit, Bruce mentioned that he saw a simple recipe for salsa verde on one of the first pages of the issue. With almost all the required ingredients, I decided to give it a whirl, literally, as you’ll see in just a moment.

So we had tomatillos, onions, and cilantro leftover from a recipe (it’s too hot for it to grow here right now, it’s a fall/winter/spring herb). And lots of peppers.

IMG_5419

lots of peppers

But we didn’t have Serrano chiles. We have poblanos, jalapeños, and bell peppers. I picked jalapeños as my Serrano replacement, but I guess any spicy pepper would do.

IMG_5424

the recipe inspiration — thanks, Bruce!

IMG_5422

ready for a whirl in the Nutribullet

It was pretty easy to husk and quarter the tomatillos. I peeled and quartered the onion. Threw the cilantro in there too. And I was careful with the jalapeño since sometimes they have a big unexpected bite. I didn’t really bother to chop anything up much because Bruce’s magical green drink blender was going to do all the hard work.

IMG_5423

the finished product: a big jar of salsa verde in mere seconds!

If you make it, grab some tortilla chips and a bunch of friends and plow through it—this is good stuff. We also like it as a sauce on white fish (excellent on cod for example). It’s good on eggs, tacos, grilled meat, perhaps you’ll want to try it on some  veggies or as a quick alternative potato salad dressing. I made it last weekend and  we still have about 1/2 jar left but I bet it’s gone by Sunday. Let me know if you try making it. My next version will be roasting the tomatillos first because I like the smoky char taste.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo of the day is our 4th of July boy George:

George and his trout

George and his trout (there may also be a tennis ball in his mouth)

 

* Despite my love of fireworks, they’re not allowed at the Mortroski Midcentury. Our sweet Georgie is ours as a result of a fireworks accident. Read more about his story here and here. Please keep your 4-legged pals safely inside tonight if you’re located in the U.S.of A.

Sow: perfection is overrated

When we first started the Mortroski Midcentury Urban Farm, I thought that I had to do everything just right or my garden wouldn’t grow. I tried to mix up the soil and compost just so. I tried to line up the transplants so they would grow neatly and symmetrically. I tried to make sure that the little signs were lovely and durable. I tried to be very organized with my tracking.

Flash forward to Spring 2014. After a very disappointing winter growing season, I didn’t have a lot of patience or time for perfection. I bought mostly seeds, not plants, although I did buy herb and pepper transplants. I bought organic compost from a local Boy Scout named Kyle, not the fancy garden center. And I literally threw seeds into the ground and hoped for the best. Well, I did use a tool called a Garda Dibble which probably helped a lot:

123 Product Photos, LLC (http://www.123ProductPhotos.com/)

Garda Dibble: a fun and brightly colored garden tool

 

So how does the Spring 2014 garden grow?

Just fine. Well, better than fine. Our weekend guests from Toronto said how pretty it looked. (That made me very happy.) It is very green and lush, soon to be even more lush after two super ugly north Texas rain storms over the past 5 days.

Best of all, it’s supplying us with veggies a plenty with lots to give away. Our guests enjoyed many yummy meals filled with ultra fresh veggies from a kale/chard salad to spinach omelets to bok choi stir fries. And of course, lots of raw radishes!

Want to see? Here are some of my views from yesterday:

IMG_4983

malabar spinach growing like weeds

IMG_4981

beautiful rosette bok choi with a two radish photobomb

IMG_4985

baby bell pepper, all shiny and new

IMG_4986

more bell peppers, a bit bigger though

IMG_4988

pole beans have doubled in size since last week and are climbing away

IMG_4989

wacky spiky lettuce!

IMG_4994

yesterday’s harvest: bok choi, salad greens, kale, chard, more radishes (although they are almost done), the first jalapeño, spinach. it’s an amazing abundance!

In the fruit department, the little peaches look plentiful. And there are figs happening too! The teeny tiny figs are so small you almost can’t see them. Time to get some bamboo stakes and bird net so I can see some of them through to maturity. And maybe there will be fig jam this fall.

One of my favorite quotes for 2014 is “all great changes are preceded by chaos.” The Spring 2014 garden’s chaos is teaching me an important lesson: not only is it clear that perfection is overrated, but also sometimes what happens is just a happy accident that works out even better than you could have ever imagined. So go with the flow! Here’s to my 2014 goal of more imperfection and more happy accidents because life’s just better when you chill out.

Today’s gratuitous dog photo:

IMG_4980

Gidget enjoying a weekend morning belly rub.

sow: dirty gardener

 

IMG_3758Guilty as charged! It was a fantastic Labor Day long weekend for getting stuff done—with plenty of time for relaxing. Although I slept in for the first time in eons, I spent most of Monday afternoon outside digging in the dirt. Perfect timing too since it rained on and off all morning long—a lovely way to start the day lounging about and drinking coffee, although Guinness was not impressed with what the wet weather did to his morning walk.

Monday’s harvest was pretty awesome (notice the seed packet next to the pile of produce):

IMG_3759

 

The chard is the last of what I planted last fall. As you may have gathered from the seed pack, I planted more. The peppers are all still going strong as is the okra (it’s all as tall as me now so it’s getting harder to pick) and they’ll keep going until the first frost hits them. I decided to freeze the nearly 1.5 pounds of okra I gathered up since it will be nice to pull some out in the middle of winter and use it in soups or stews.

But picking wasn’t the most important part about Monday. Serious digging happened. And I’m not talking about the hole that Gidget and George have been making next to the driveway when no one’s looking.

Why? Well, because fall’s here. Ok, truthfully, fall’s not really here until September 21 or so and it’s still close to 100°F almost every day, but it’s time to get fall seeds in the ground. So I started by soaking some snow pea and beet seeds on Saturday evening. The snow peas are already sprouting and they were planted on Sunday afternoon!

IMG_3730

Monday, I dug, added compost and soil, pulled weeds. moved stuff around. And I did a lot of squatting which is why my body was a bit sore yesterday—and my brain was too tired after work to blog.

But not too tired to get one more thing done. Bruce and I worked on clearing out the flooded stock tank (#3) last night. I used about 1/2 of the dirt to augment the other beds and tanks on Monday, then he finished clearing the rest of the soil out into two wheelbarrows. We added three bags of crushed stone, then tested the draining (works fine now). So we loaded the 1/2 of the dirt that was left back in and I’ll get more dirt on the weekend so I can plant carrots and radishes.

Can you tell that I’m excited to get new stuff in the ground? Here’s what what I planted on Sunday (all seeds are from Botanical Interests):

  • Oregon sugar pod II snow peas
  • French filet bush beans (had to plant more since I think the birds may have eaten some of the seeds I planted a few weeks ago)
  • Gourmet blend beets (check out the seed pack above)
  • Detroit red beets
  • Five color silverbeet Swiss chard
  • Nero Tuscana kale
  • Red velvet leaf lettuce
  • Qs special medley mesclun
  • Cilantro
  • Italian parsley
  • Bok choi

Here’s what’s sticking around from the spring planting:

  • Malabar spinach (going crazy still)
  • Oregano (moved into a planter)
  • Thyme (moved into a planter)
  • Mint
  • Jalapeño peppers
  • Anaheim peppers
  • Clemson spineless okra
  • Orange bell peppers
  • Green bell peppers
  • Marigolds (moved to the bed with the fall tomatoes, they help attract bees)
  • Black diamond watermelon (a gift from a friend that is finally just starting to produce watermelons)
  • some of the basil (see below for details)

My arugula patio planter experiment is going very well. We’ve been harvesting handfuls for sandwiches and burgers—it’s really yummy. Definitely going to do it again next summer and maybe try a couple of additional planters to increase the volume.

I picked up some sprout seeds over the weekend and will be trying out growing those on the window sill just as soon as I get some quart mason jars (I thought I had some, but I only have 1/2 quart jars). I really love them on sandwiches and am a little worried about all of the illnesses that store-bought sprouts seem to have. (The instructions explain how to properly disinfect the seeds so there is little chance of getting sick.)

The fall tomatoes are cranking away. There’s fruit on the Indigo Rose and Celebrity plants, flowers on the rest and I’m already dreaming of tomato sandwiches and caprese salads. The warm days and cooler nights appear to be working their wonders. I pulled a tomato (sweet 100 so Bruce won’t care) and a bell pepper (green) plant that were formerly in the flooded stock tank and really didn’t appreciate being moved. They weren’t doing well, so it seemed a better idea to use the space to plant something else.

I’ve had an exceptional season for basil. I’ve made pesto several times, frozen some, given tons away. Last Thursday I gave away 10 1-gallon bags of the stuff to some coworkers:

IMG_3718

 

I love basil and it’s so gratifying to grow—that’s why it makes me so happy to share it. While I have had great plans to make another couple of batches of pesto to freeze (I have everything I need, just need to do it), I haven’t gotten around to it yet. But I did make a lovely basil-watermelon-feta salad from a recipe one of the basil beneficiaries suggested (thanks, Lauren):

 

IMG_3735

Martha Stewart’s Basil-Watermelon-Feta Salad

 

It was pretty and delicious and I plan to make it many times—I even made a small batch of it for our work lunches today.

The basil is also doing double duty as housing. If you look carefully at the photo below, you will see the toad that has lived in Raised Bed #4 all summer. He arrived when the tomato jungle was making tons of shade and has stuck around. Last night, I saw that he’s made a little hut from the mulch around the basil. Hopefully it keeps him hidden from Gidget (she keeps looking for him, perhaps because she has a taste for toads).

 

IMG_3743

Toad in a hole

But as cute as it is, a toad isn’t a dog.  And it won’t satisfy your desire to see gratuitous G photos from the long weekend. Here are a couple of my favorites of George and Gidget, who are quickly becoming best friends:

 

IMG_3720

George has a ball in his mouth that Gidget really wants

IMG_3729

 

Hope you’re having a great week!

Sow: distributing wealth

IMG_3562

Big bunch of fresh basil becomes a tiny jar of dried basil.

20130805-214234.jpg

But I still had more basil so I loaded it back up again.

The great basil dehydration experiment has been a great success. And very enlightening. Never again will I wonder why such a small bottle of a spice or herb costs so much. You saw how much basil I picked on Sunday. It had to be taken off the stems, washed, spun dry, then dehydrated for about 2.5 hours. Basically 1/2 of that became what’s in the tiny bottle in the photo above. That bottle isn’t full so I’m continuing to dehydrate to fill that bottle and hopefully at least one other the same size.

I also brought one of my work pals a huge bouquet of basil:

basil bouquet: like flowers but edible

basil bouquet: like fancy flowers but edible

It caused quite a stir—before I knew it, I was dispensing gardening advice since another coworker has been having bad luck with her basil. And by the end of the day, the bouquet recipient’s boss was looking for some basil too. Luckily I have plenty more where that came from so I can bring them each a bag (though not probably as bountiful as the basil bouquet) tomorrow.

The malabar spinach is also growing like crazy so I brought a bag (repurposed from the yuppie hippie grocery store) for another coworker who is working hard to eat right and exercise.  Picking the bagful didn’t really make much of a dent in the vines:

IMG_3557

big bag full of spinach

IMG_3558

Malabar spinach vines are surpassing the trellis

IMG_3559

Malabar spinach and the fall tomatoes

There’s lots happening in the garden so I also brought a small bag of okra to the basil bouquet recipient. She’s a fan of okra (I checked since it’s such a polarizing vegetable) and was thrilled to get some. I hope she made something delicious with it:

paper bag of okra with some red jalapeños thrown in for fun

paper bag of okra with some red jalapeños thrown in just for fun

I’m really loving the okra, but it will be at it’s end fairly soon. So this morning I planted the fall bush beans:

Fall bush beans got planted today

Fall bush beans: chopstick is for making a hole for the two beans that need to get planted in each hole.

I also saw a familiar friend. I haven’t named him yet because I wasn’t sure he’d stick around (or not end up in George’s mouth). Got any suggestions for a name?

My toad pal. He hangs out near one of the raised beds.

Look carefully for my toad pal. He hangs out near one of the raised beds.

And I’m continuing to hit the reset button: Bruce and I went to the gym again tonight for more cardio and abs/planks. Gotta say that I’m feeling it. Well, at least I know that my muscles are remembering what to do.

Have a great night!

Sow: pop-up pepper pickles

20130720-193144.jpg

Today I realized that we had a lot of jalapeños and Anaheim chilis to harvest and I needed to do something with them. So I decided to pickle a pound of peppers. Say that 5 times fast just for fun.

I pulled up a refrigerator pickle recipe my co-worker Lisa recommended (pinned to my pinterest board “can”). I made the recipe last fall with some of our pepper bounty and everyone who tried it, liked it.

Most people around here will eat a jar of pickled peppers so fast that refrigerator ones are the best way to share the bounty.

If you want to try it, check it out here: http://www.sippitysup.com/sippitysups-selection-of-a-pound-of-pickled-peppers/

It’s a delicious pickled pepper in my opinion. And Bruce and I really like them with fish. I put a bit of extra onion in each jar since everyone who tried them remarked that the onion was delicious too. One of my friends said the brine would be good for pickling carrots too.

20130720-193823.jpg

It’s a quick recipe if you have the ingredients. I picked up the vinegar at the local yuppie/hippie grocery store today. And as you can see from the photo, I was ready to make 5 good sized jars, some to keep, some to give away.

While I was pickling, we got a big surprise: a pop up gully washer (Texan for flash flood) thunderstorm! Yes, more rain.

When I checked the rain barrels today and added the mosquito dunks (organic mosquito prevention disc you add to rain barrels), three of the four were full.

So when the storm happened today, Bruce ran out and put buckets, the plastic liner for our garden wagon (looks like a kid’s wagon except with all terrain tires) and anything else he could find to catch water. He also had to get a broom to push water off the patio since it was coming down so fast and hard and flooding in places.

Power went out several times because of the lightening. Surprisingly, George was not scared at all.

Very odd weather for July in North Texas. When I checked the garden today and harvested okra and peppers, the ground was still saturated from yesterday’s popup storm. Obviously the Malabar spinach likes it:

20130720-195334.jpg

Peppers turned out very well. Now they need to marinade for about a week before tasting them. Hopefully they’re as good as last fall’s version.

20130720-195551.jpg