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It’s not easy being green

September 30, 2016

I have a lot in common with Kermit the Frog. I’ve been known to flail my arms in the air like boneless wet noodles when I’m excited, and I use the phrase “it’s not easy being green” fairly often. Usually it’s in self deprecation, when my husband has responded to something I’ve told him and I just sigh and tell him, “what can I say, it’s not easy being green.”

This post however, isn’t actually about Kermit the Frog, or my pithy comments, but actual real green stuff.

Namely avocados, olives, basil and figs.

I’ve been stuck on both lately. Avocados in New York are not at their best prices of the year, but I’ve been buying them anyway. I recently did my now traditional annual olive curing. And basil, well, it’s coming to that time where my summer garden is nearing the end of it’s natural life and I’m trying to harvest what I can to keep.

First, avocados

avocadoI love avocados. We make guacamole, avocado toast with runny eggs on top, and avocado salsa. I’ve even made lemony avocado pasta sauce. It’s slightly odd, but surprisingly good.

You know what else is awesome? Tacos. I just want to be sure, do we all realize how easy tacos are to make? Grill meat or shrimp, or fry fish (or often in my case, cook some beans), warm up some corn or flour tortillas, and put the filling on the tortilla. You can add shredded lettuce or cabbage, salsa, diced tomatoes, etc. It’s really so simple, and it’s so easy to take it from a boring little roll up to outstanding. Dicing up a mango and dropping a spoonful on top of grilled shrimp adds an awesome tropical flavor. Or, my personal favorite, the 5 minute avocado salsa.

Ready? Dice a tomato or two. Cut an avocado in half and draw the knife lengthwise then widthwise and use a spoon to scoop out neat little chunks. Toss your avocado with the tomato, plus a little lime juice, salt, pepper, dried cilantro if you have and onion powder (or use fresh diced onion, I just can’t eat raw onions so I opt for powder). The acidity of the tomato, tang of the lime juice and creaminess of the avocado really amplifies and compliments the rest of your ingredients.

Second, olives

olives2 weekends ago I cured 16 pounds of olives with the help of my sister in law and my future sister in law. While Little Miss napped, we took all sorts of aggression out on these olives, crushing and cracking them before putting them in their jars. We used my grandfather’s method (which can be found here) and successfully filled 13 jars with only a minimal amount of difficulty. To fully cure, they need to sit 40 days, so I am (im)patiently awaiting the end of that period.

Last year, my grandfather taught me how to cure olives. He passed in March of this year, and the months since have been filled with those odd moments where I almost forget he is gone, or I do things that in the past I may have done with him or asked him about, or things I learned from him. I was afraid that olive curing would make me an emotional mess, but my sisters in law were an extraordinary team that kept me on task. Nonetheless, I’m extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to learn from grandpa last year.

Third, basil

basilBasil! I’m half Italian, so an affinity for basil is in my blood. I planted several rows of basil in my garden this year and then grew into bushy, unruly bundles of leaves which I’ve been selectively picking from for cooking for months. But, it’s the end of September and everything left in the garden will be dying off soon.

If you’re in the same boat, here’s my tip – I pick the basil leaves, wash them and let them dry, then lay them into a freezer bag and freeze them so even in the dead of winter, I can crumble off some fresh basil. Once it’s in the pot with whatever I’m cooking, you’d never know it was frozen.

Yes, there’s always dried basil, which I have and use…but it’s not the same. You know it’s not the same.

Fourth, figs

figsThis is simple excitement. It’s fig season! My two fig trees are producing slowly but steadily, with me picking a couple of figs each day.

I’m not going to lie, the fig trees were not the selling point on this house, but they certainly didn’t hurt. Between the fig trees, the screen porch, and the italian neighbors who talk loudly in their yard (stop laughing, I seriously find it comforting even though I have no idea what they’re saying), it just felt right.

And as it turns out, Little Miss is a fan of figs and has threatened the entire crop with her enthusiasm.

So that’s my green round up for right now. We’re heading into the season of reds, yellows and oranges, so I guess it’s good that I get all this green out of my system now. What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Gardening Health

Planting potatoes

July 25, 2016

When most people plan their backyard gardens, I don’t think that potatoes tend to make the list. My own experience with growing potatoes was very limited until this year; I remember when I was still elementary school age, watching my grandfather dig up an area of his garden to reveal a whole mess of potatoes under the dirt.

I know now that it’s fairly simple to grow a decent crop of potatoes. And if they’re stored in a cool, dry, dark area, they will last several months if you don’t get to use them all right away.

What do you do with all those potatoes? To quote a certain hobbit, “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” Or dice them and throw them in a soup, slice them thin and fry them, bake them, mash them and top a shepherd’s pie…I think you catch my drift, there are plenty of ways to use your crop of potatoes.

This potato is done with being above ground.

This potato is done with being above ground.

This spring I came across some potatoes in Home Depot’s planting section and I decided to give it a try. Why would I be impressed with a little plastic baggie of non-GMO organic potatoes? Conventional potato farming involves a lot of pesticides, including known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins and reproductive/developmental toxins. Those happy little potatoes nestled under the dirt absorb all the herbicides and fungicides that are sprayed above the ground and are then further treated to prevent sprouting once they are harvested. I’ve read articles where potato farmers discuss the hazmat suits they were when spraying their fields, and how they won’t feed their own families the potatoes they grow.

If you can’t plant them, try to find them organic. If you want to plant them, even a sprouted treated conventionally grown potato will produce a crop of much less toxic potatoes, as they are not being exposed to all this in growing this time around. You may have complications, but what did it cost you? A few minutes to plant and some potatoes that would have otherwise gone in the garbage.

So, back to planting them yourselves. Look for organic potatoes in the garden section, or just plant your sprouted potatoes! All organic seed potatoes are ideal, but sprouted potatoes work too. When your potatoes start to sprout and get soft, don’t throw them out, plant them!

Sprouting sweet potatoes - purple sprouts!

Sprouting sweet potatoes – purple sprouts!

You can easily do some internet research on how to plant your potatoes for the best results, but this post is going to be quick as dirty, as my posts tend to be.

Since my initial batch of organic, from the store little white potatoes I have planted some supermarket potatoes that sprouted and they are growing away. Find yourself a planter or barrel with holes in the bottom for good draining and plant your sprouted potatoes reasonably deep (this can be done right in the ground too, it’s just easier to dig them up in a container). You don’t want to plant too close to the surface of the dirt because the new potatoes grow along the stalk, under the surface of the dirt.

Within a few weeks you’ll start seeing a thick, dark green stalk and leaves emerge from the dirt (mine have come up in just a few days). Water regularly and let them grow. After a few months you’ll notice the stalk start to fail – to turn yellow or start to fall over. That’s your signal that you can dig them up. If your stalks get tall enough, you’ll see pretty white to purple flowers blooming on them.

When you’re ready, dig up the dirt in the container or area in the ground, and give it a good sift. If you had a nice long period of growth you’ll have good size potatoes, or you may find a nice amount of “baby potatoes” only a couple of inches across.

Sprouted from supermarket potatoesI’ve had good luck so far, with my first batch of cute little white potatoes and nice growth on my sprouted supermarket potatoes so far. Potatoes are fond of cooler temperatures, so you can actually do a few batches each year right into the fall, as long as the plants are well established before the first frost. Also, rotate where you plant them or replace the dirt in your planter, as depleted soil will not grow as well.

That’s really it! So next time you notice your potatoes are starting to sprout, try tossing them in some dirt instead of the garbage and see how it goes.

Fun fact: onions make potatoes sprout faster, so don’t store the two together unless that’s the desired outcome!

Have you planted potatoes? How did you do?

Gardening Uncategorized

Gade Farm

May 24, 2016

I don’t know about where you live, but the weather in upstate New York is finally getting mild and sunny. After what seemed like weeks of rain, we’ve finally gotten enough sun to sit outside, sip cold drinks, and watch the dogs run around the yard. And, when those aforementioned dogs get me up because they need to go outside at four in the morning (help me), I hear birds cheerfully chirping away. It is also light out by the time my husband leaves for work, which is nice.

Now that I have, for now, a little more time on my hands, I’ve started to think about doing a little landscaping and yard prep for the summer. I’m waiting for our car port to be cleared out so that I can complete the long anticipated patio makeover. While I wait, I’ve been bargain shopping and window shopping for lights and an outdoor carpet. We also want to start a vegetable garden , but with a new baby on the way, we’ve decided to keep things pretty simple this year and buy a few plants at some point. We’ll probably plant tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, and various  herbs. Although I do not have the greatest green thumb, we have had decent luck with those three crops in the past, and our zucchini seems to practically take care of itself! I don’t know why, but it does. Luckily, even if we don’t harvest our own huge bounty this year, there is always plenty of fresh produce at the Green Market on Sundays. My husband plans to remove the boxes he built for our little garden two years ago and just dig out a nice patch of our yard to fence in.

With other projects on hold, I started thinking about our window boxes. There is something about coming home and seeing your window boxes heaping with flowers that feels so cozy and nice. The first year we lived in our house,  I planted marigolds that I sadly killed by watering at the hottest part of the day- but you live and learn! I can’t remember what exactly I planted last year. There were red, white and yellow flowers that lived very happily in the sun and absolutely flourished for most of the summer once I started watering them before it got too hot!

This year, I was uncertain about what I wanted to buy, but I knew I would shop at my favorite place to buy plants,  The Gade Farm. If you’ve been reading this blog for the past year, you might remember me mentioning this nursery and country shop as home of hands down the best apple cider donuts I have ever had, and delicious fruit pies that they import from Mourningkill Bake Shop. It also has one of the most beautifully arranged nurseries that you have ever seen! If I am ever feeling down, or uninspired, there is something about walking through that gorgeous rainbow of plants and flowers that immediately puts me in a good mood. I figured that Gade’s would be the perfect distraction from feeling like my baby won’t ever come!

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Initially I was a little overwhelmed by the large selection of full sun plants- and the crowd- it was insane for a Monday morning! I guess I wasn’t the only one intoxicated by the sunshine and mid 70’s! I also think people are probably getting their yards ready for Memorial Day weekend this week. Despite the crowds,  I quickly made my way over to the flowers that were $2.99 a pack. I love nothing more than a good deal- and I figured that I could buy a bunch of flowers and still stay within a reasonable budget! I chose orange marigolds, purple crawly flowers called Verbena Imagination, and red Salvia.  The staff was very helpful and friendly and even loaded everything into the back of my car for me. Between a large bag of soil and all of my flowers, I spent about $47. I bought 11 packs of flowers to cover my five window boxes. Honestly, I ended up buying way too much- because although the boxes look a little sparse now, if all goes according to plan- they will fill out like crazy once they get better established.  Knowing how things took off last year, I did not want to overcrowd the boxes. The rest of the flowers ended up in little pots that are now decorating my front stoop. Before I left the nursery, I also stopped into the country shop and bought a delicious very berry crumble top pie! So worth it!

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I am so glad that I took the time yesterday to do some planting! There is nothing like getting your hands into the soil and spending time outside. Plus, although today is mild, the sun is currently hiding behind some clouds, and I don’t know whether it will come back out today.

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What have you guys been planting so far this year?

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Growing from seed 101

May 2, 2016

Each spring, I plant my little vegetable garden in the yard. And each year I debate; do I buy plants or grow them from seed? Live plants are more likely to survive, but seeds are so much cheaper.

Well, I’m an impulse shopper, so every time I see heirloom non-GMO seeds in the store, I pick up a few packets. With so many seeds sitting around from this year and last, I decided to try most of my plants from seed this spring, and only buy tomatoes live, as I never have much luck growing them from seed.

I usually start off by germinating my seeds inside, then transfer them to egg cartons filled with potting soil to grow a little more, then I’ll move them to their intended locations outside. Plenty of times I’ve gotten over ambitious and germinated my seeds too early, so I purposely waited until the end of April to get them started this year.

This started several years ago, when I decided to try growing from seed for the first time. I made an offhand comment to my mother that I wasn’t sure how to germinate the seeds.

And my brother, my kind, loving, hilarious brother spun around and snapped, “you don’t know how to germinate seeds? Didn’t you go to first grade?!”

But despite his comments, he showed me how, and now I know how simple it is and I do it each year.

To germinate your seeds inside, you’ll need:

  • zippered plastic sandwich bags
  • paper towels
  • seeds
  • permanent market

Mark each sandwich bag with the name of the seed you’ll put in so you know what’s what. Take 1 full size paper towel or tseed-bagswo of the select-a-size ones and fold it in half. Wet it and then wring it out over the sink so that it’s wet throughout but not dripping. Place it on a counter or table and place a handful of seeds, neatly in rows with space in between, making sure you’re only using half the paper towel. Now fold it over to cover the seeds and tuck the edges up a little. Gently place it in the bag and seal it (this causes a greenhouse kind of effect). Once you’re done with everything you want to sprout, gently place the bags in a dark place (like a cabinet or drawer) where they won’t be disturbed. In a minimum of 4 days you’ll see growth. Green beans sprout large and quick, while others will take several more days.

Once your sprouts are a decent size, gently extricate them from the paper towel and plant them in a flower pot, egg carton or small starter pots. These are delicate, so make sure they get enough water and sunlight. Especially if they’re in very little soil, they will dry up quickly, so look at them each day. Soon enough you’ll see more growth with larger leaves sprouting. Once you have a nicely established little plant, you can start placing them outside for short periods of time to harden them against the outside weather. Really though, a short time – a few spoonfuls of dirt don’t hold much water and hours in the hot sun will dry these brand new plants to a crisp. Have I done this? Yes of course, I killed a whole tray last year by forgetting them out for the afternoon.

Once they’re nicely established, get them in the ground and water them well. With luck, your plants will take and you’ll have a beautiful garden for the minimal cost of a few seed packets.

Thin, fine cucumber sprouts on the left and thick, hearty green bean sprouts on the right; 4 days.

This is a quick and dirty outline of how to get your seeds started inside. What are your favorite tricks?

Feature Gardening

A Tale of Two Gardens

September 2, 2015
old fashioned modern living fall garden

All last winter I dreamed of a lush, manicured garden in my new yard, with vegetable plants everywhere there was space. When March rolled around and the weather got slightly warmer, I started sneaking outside to pull weeds, bag up trash and begin preparing the ground for the garden. Sometimes I was by myself, slipping outside for an hour while my husband watched the baby; other times there was a squirmy infant on my back, bouncing up and down in her carrier, trying her hardest to throw her crouching mama off balance as she pulled up errant grass shoots.

I had varying levels of success with the garden this year. The two blueberry bushes I planted never had a chance, just dried up twigs sticking out of the ground no matter how well I tried to care for them. My cucumbers took off running, but instead of the straight, beautiful heirloom fruit they were meant to grow, they produced pale, prickly little globes that had visitors asking, “but what ARE those?” as though I had planted something utterly alien.

My zucchini plants produced 6-8 nice squash, and my green and yellow beans (on the same bush, people. Green and yellow beans growing on the same bush like some sort of magic.) produced beautifully, yielding handfuls of beans each week that went into stir fries and rich vegetable soups. I even got a couple of japanese eggplant, despite the plants never really seeming to flourish. And the tomatoes. One plant each of 5 different varieties have made sure I always have tomatoes on hand.

Each evening from spring through summer I would slip outside to water the garden, paying special attention to the plants in planters, because they just dry out so easily. I have absolutely loved it. The satisfaction of seeing my plants grow day by day, then picking vegetables I had planted and cared for, cooking them and watching my baby gleefully devour them was indescribable.

Well, the dog days of summer came, and maybe some sort of garden blight as well, and my plants started to go. I did double duty weeding and sprayed them down with natural fungicides to no avail. The zucchini and cucumber plants shriveled up and the bean plants lost their leaves and had to be pulled out. Only my tomatoes still seem to be really holding steady, with the cherry tomato bush still heavily loaded with ripening fruit, which I truly appreciate given my daughter’s new found appetite for tomatoes.

So now what? I call it a day and wait for next spring, right?

Wrong! Are you ready for this?

It’s the beginning of September and I can plant another garden.

That’s right, in the north east where we have 4 distinct seasons and a very real winter coming in just a few months, I can plant a fall garden. And so can you, if you’re so inclined.

I first got an inkling that this was possible back in the spring when I discovered watermelon radishes. Unlike the mediocre little red balls you find bagged in the supermarket, the watermelon radishes I ordered from Farmigo were huge and sweet with a hint of pepper, super crunchy and beautiful – pale green on the outside and vibrant, deep pink within. Determined to have these on hand every day for the rest of forever, I went to order seeds. Hold on…must be grown in cool weather? Does best when fall planted? What does that mean?

Since then I’ve been keeping an eye out for cold-hardy plants, the ones that will survive into the fall and maybe even early winter. The kinds of plants that not only survive a chill, but may even benefit from it. It turns out that dark leafy greens like kale, collard greens, mustard greens and spinach tolerate cold well, and kale can even be improved by a little frost! Broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts are all from the same cold-tolerant family. Then there’s the roots: your beets, turnips and radishes, nestled safely and happily in the ground.

If you’re planning to plant a fall garden, just be sure to pay attention to the instructions for your seeds or plants. As always, different varieties have different needs and tolerances. It’s going to take some work to take out all the old plants and start planting again, but if all goes well, we can be picking fresh produce, about as local as it gets, well into November.

So while I’m by no means excited about the ends of my tomatoes or the last of my basil withering away, I am looking forward to throwing on a sweatshirt and boots and heading outside to harvest my swiss chard, watermelon radishes, kale and beets.

What about you? Are you thinking of planting a fall garden?