Thinking Garden Thoughts

We got 6 inches of snow yesterday, but all I can think about is our garden this year!  We are lucky that our house has a decent-sized backyard (for our area), so I’m looking forward to growing tomatoes, peas, beans, pumpkins, greens, herbs and whatever ever else catches my fancy.  This year we have 23′ x 9′ to work with, and I’m planning to divide it into 4 smaller beds – 2 – 4′ x 9′ beds and 2 – 2′ x 9′ beds – with 18 inch walkways in between.

Last weekend I started jalapeno pepper (saved from a productive plant last year) and Lacinato kale seeds under grow lights.  I’m waiting a few more weeks to start my tomato seeds because last year they were huge by the time I could plant them in the garden.  I have six varieties of tomatoes that I plan to start from seed this year, including Brandywine and Cherokee Purple which I’ve grown (and saved seeds from) the past several years.

I also have a Southern Highbush Sunshine Blue bare root blueberry plant hanging out in a bucket in the basement until I can plant it at the end of April.  The basement is really too warm for it, and I plan to move it to the shed as soon as the temps warm up a bit.  Since I still regret not digging up the blueberry bushes we planted at our last house six months before we moved, I decided to go with a variety that can be grown in a container.  Once we are some place more permanent I plan to go crazy planting fruit bushes!

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Blueberry Picking

We had so much fun strawberry picking that we returned to the same farm for blueberry picking two weekends ago.  The berries were tasty and plentiful, and we had a great time.  Baby C got dirtier than he’s probably ever been in his life🙂

DSC_9013 DSC_9014We made a rookie berry picking mistake, however…we forgot to ask ahead of time whether they charged by weight or by volume.  We paid for our strawberries by the pound (and they were cheap!), so we figured it would be the same for the blueberries.  We filled six quarts but didn’t top them off to avoid spillage.  Turns out, they cost $2.99/pt which means we spent nearly $36 for our blueberries.  Yikes.  Those are grocery store prices!  When we got home, just to prove a point, we divided one of the quarts amongst all the others.  As you can see, we paid for six quarts but really only had five quarts worth of blueberries.  Lesson learned.

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Garden Update

A quick update on the garden.

My tomato plants are huge, but the cherokee purples only have 2-3 green tomatoes each and the pink brandywine has none.  All have lots of flowers though.

I’m waiting for the spinach and sugar snap pea plants to dry out so I can harvest the seeds.

My zucchini plants are growing quickly, but all of the blooms have fallen off so far.  I read that this is normal.

My broccoli plants are getting taller but don’t look to be producing anything.  I just learned that broccoli is a cool season plant, so I should have planted it early in the spring with the peas.  Maybe it will hold on for the fall?

No raspberries yet, but my blueberries are doing well.  We are picking a few everyday from the Northern Patriot High Bush.

My carrots are a big disappointment.  My dad pulled a few of his and they were 3-4 inches long.  Mine are 3-4 cm long :-)  I wonder if I planted too many seeds too close together?

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Healthy Eating?

Check out this post from Northwest Edible Life: The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater.  The post is funny, but I can also really identify with it.

For the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about healthy eating and traditional foods and trying to incorporate more whole foods into my diet WAPF-style.  I can’t really get behind everything that the WAPF espouses, but I’ve been trying to make small changes as I go.  However, more and more it seems like as soon as I incorporate a particular food into my diet, I find new information indicating that said food is actually terrible for me, and I should immediately cease eating it (I’m looking at you raw leafy greens).  Sometimes I feel like I can’t win.

You know how the WAPF preaches that we should all be taking Green Pastures fermented cod liver oil?  How it’s all over the internet as the best and only cod liver oil one should take?  I’ve been choking this stuff down for the better part of 3 years…and then I read this.  Smack in the face.  Oh well, I’m still taking it.  At some point I just have to accept that I am doing my best.

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Garden 2013

A lot is going on in the garden this year, and I’m fairly pleased with our progress.  We moved into our current house last June, so all we managed to plant last year was a few tomato plants.  This year we installed our two 6′ x 2′ garden boxes.

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Mid-May

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Mid-June

I began in late March by direct seeding the last of my sugar snap pea seeds.  These seeds were 3 years old, so I wasn’t sure if they would sprout.  Fortunately about a third of the seeds came up, and they were doing well until a ground hog decimated them a few weeks ago.  I have a few surviving plants with flowers, so we may yet get some peas.  I hope so because I want to save the seeds for next year.  The peas are so easy to grow and very prolific.

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In late April I direct seeded lettuce, kale, spinach and carrots.  The lettuce was doing well until the ground hog incident.  Fortunately, the spinach and carrots escaped the assault unscathed.  My spinach is starting to go to seed, and I hope to save some of the seeds for next year as my original seeds are getting old.  My blue dwarf kale was a disappointment again, so I think I’m done with it.

In late May I planted three heirloom tomato plants (2 Cherokee Purples and 1 Pink Brandywine), a Bounty Sweet Banana Pepper plant and an Orient Express Eggplant plant.  All are doing well.  My tomato plants are huge, and a few little green tomatoes are starting to appear.  We have an eggplant that is about 4″ long, as well as a tiny banana pepper.

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In early June I picked up 4 broccoli plants (also ravaged by the groundhog, but they appear to be coming back), a cherry tomato plant, 2 zucchini plants, and a green pepper plant.

DSC_8634The plants I’m most excited about are our new berry bushes!  We have a heritage raspberry bush and two blueberry bushes.  I can’t wait to pick berries in my backyard.  I also have two strawberry plants in a container.

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Heritage Raspberry, Chandler Blueberry, Patriot Northern Highbush Blueberry

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We have fortified our garden boxes with more substantial fencing in an effort to keep the groundhogs out (there are at least a mama and 4 babies living on our neighbor’s back hillside). I’m really hoping for a bountiful harvest this year, and I will be sooo disappointed if the groundhogs (or other pests) ruins our hard work.

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Strawberry Picking

I have fond childhood memories of berry picking.  My dad’s side of the family would all get together and go to a local farm to pick strawberries.  I can remember hot, sunny days and eating more strawberries than I put in my basket.  I’m not sure how many years we did this — maybe only once — but it’s a memory that makes me smile.  I’m excited to develop annual traditions, like berry picking, with my own little family now.

In that spirit, J, Baby C and I headed to Reilly’s Summer Seat Farm late last week to pick strawberries.  It was a cloudy and gray day following a day of rain, so the field was a bit muddy.  We made out okay though with 3 quarts and 1 pint of tiny berries.  The best part is all those strawberries cost less than $6!

As strawberries are on the dirty dozen list of foods that are particularly contaminated by pesticides, I had hoped to find an organic berry farm, but they seem to be few and far between here in Western PA.  In a (likely vain) attempt to remove dirt and pesticide residue, I cleaned the berries in a baking dish filled with water and a few tablespoons of white vinegar.  I rinsed them with fresh water and then laid them on a towel to dry before hulling.  I froze most of the strawberries so we can enjoy them for months to come.  We have been eating the rest on yogurt and as a quick snack.  The tiny berries are the perfect size for Baby C to feed himself.

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Third Anniversary Weekend

Jason and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary last week and decided to have a fun weekend alone to mark the occasion.  Baby C spent two days and one night (his first away from us!) at Grandma and Pap Pap’s house while J and I took day trips to Erie and Cleveland on Friday and Saturday, respectively.  We used to do day trips like this all the time but have gotten away from them since Caleb was born.  It was fun to reconnect as a couple.

After a wonderful breakfast at a local diner, we hit the road to Erie on Friday.  We headed straight to Erie wine country to visit a few wineries.  We picked up a few bottles of wine as well as some fancy olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  After all those wine tastings, we needed to eat.  We had a great lunch at Jekyll & Hyde’s Gastropub in downtown Erie.  I had an order of “Devils on Horseback” — goat cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon — and I am now obsessed.  I will be recreating these this week!

After lunch we stopped at Romolo Chocolates.  A few weeks ago, a friend brought me the most amazing chocolate toffee cookies from Romolo’s, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on more of them.  Unfortunately, they were all sold out of that variety.  Instead I bought the last four cookies in the store — two double chocolate mint and two chocolate pecan.

Next stop was Presque Isle.

DSC_8476DSC_8477I initially had visions of J and I biking around the park and walking on the beach, but….it was cold!  Nonetheless, we enjoyed the car ride and got out a few times to get some fresh air.  We wrapped up the day with a quick visit to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle.  It’s a beautiful educational center, especially considering that admission is free.

The next morning we woke up blissfully well rested, but it was weird to be at home without Caleb.  We made a quick stop at my parents to say good morning and to give him a kiss before heading to Cleveland.

We were so excited to check out the West Side Market.  It’s a bit like Pittsburgh’s Strip District but much more condensed and way cooler.  It was packed, so we didn’t get to browse as much as we would have liked, but we managed to pick up some Ohio City pasta, fresh bread and local maple syrup.

DSC_8485 DSC_8483 DSC_8478We grabbed lunch at a Middle Eastern restaurant just around the corner.  It was tasty!

DSC_8486We spent the afternoon at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — a huge museum with so much to see!

DSC_8487 DSC_8504We had some time to kill before dinner, so we wondered around downtown Cleveland to see the sights.  We ran across filming of Captain America 2, as well as 4 or 5 wedding parties.  It was beautiful day, so lots of people were out and about.

We then had the most amazing meal at Lola Bistro, one of Michael Symon’s restaurants.  The only table available was the chef’s table which overlooks the kitchen — best seat in the house in my opinion.  Since we had an early reservation, we were able to chat with the line cook while he prepped for the evening.  It was really interesting to see how a high end kitchen runs — very calm and efficient!  J and I shared an appetizer of poke which is a raw tuna salad similar to a ceviche.  (If you had told me a few years ago that I’d willingly be eating raw fish with a fork, I’d have said you were crazy.)  It was phenomenal.  For the entree, I had scallops served with peas, orange and pearl onions while Jason had the hanger steak served with fries (and these weren’t just any fries…).  I was slightly disappointed in the chocolate cherry cake we had for dessert, but I’m willing to overlook that because otherwise the meal was definitely one of the best I’ve ever had.

We hit the road back to Pittsburgh full and happy :-)  It was a great two days, but I couldn’t wait to spend Sunday and Monday with our little guy.

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