Sunday, March 21, 2010

Gardener goes on vacation!

This will (hopefully) be short. I haven't packed yet, and I still have to finish my road trip playlist. As usual, there are many, many other things I should be doing besides blogging right now. Oh well.

Yesterday's Seattle Tilth plant sale was awesome. I made the mistake of smelling the herbs and came home with lavender, thyme, mint, and rosemary. I picked up arugula, spinach, strawberries, leeks, and spring onions as well. Next month's credit card bill is going to hurt, but the spring full of incredible salads will be worth it. I arrived at the sale at 8:45, and was still able to get in by 9. The next one is in May, and it will likely be busier -- tomatoes will be on sale then!

I moved the stuff I was growing in containers (onions, oregano, fava beans and peas) to the side yard next to my raised bed. Before I go, I need to put more Critter Ridder down. A (bastard) squirrel has discovered my garden, and thinks that it has nuts buried there. Since this is liberal Seattle, my friend's helpful suggestions of dynamite and Colt-45s won't fly -- there's a city ordinance banning cruelty to animals, and I'm pretty sure that dynamiting squirrels falls under the definition of "animal cruelty." So Critter Ridder it is. All it does is make them sneeze. I figure that, if it's sold at a Seattle hardware store, it has to be legal, right?

This morning, I helped some folks from my P-Patch move dirt around, even out plots, and plant the food bank plots. It was fun. It's really starting to look like a community garden, which is exciting. I put the strawberries in, and planted a row of kale, chard, lettuce, and purple bunching onions. Abby, one of the other gardeners, taught me that you have to dig a trench in order to grow leeks. Apparently, with leeks, the white part (the tasty part you eat) grows under the ground. So in order to get a long white part, you have to dig a trench first, and then slowly add soil back in. I dug a big hole at home, but I'm not sure if it is big enough. We will have to wait and see.

My tomato plants are growing quickly at home. My new roommate will be taking care of the garden while I am gone. I'm trying not to be nervous, but it does feel like I'm leaving my little green children in someone else's hands. He has gardened before, so these are good hands to leave my little greenies in. At last count, I have 23 healthy tomato starts. If each produces 100 tomatoes, I'm in big trouble -- that's 2300 tomatoes! I plan on giving some away to friends, and on planting a couple in the food bank plots. I need to save my money and buy a pressure canner -- that will definitely help ease the overload.

As I mentioned earlier, I am leaving on vacation tomorrow. I'm calling the trip Operation Phoenix because a) that's where I'm going, and b) the meaning of the word "phoenix" makes the title all the more poignant. In mythology, the phoenix is the "firebird." It lives for 500-1000 years before it is reduced to ashes by a fire -- and from those ashes, a new, young phoenix is born. Most of you read this on Facebook (at least the ones I know about), which means that most of you know that I went through a breakup a month ago. It was hard, it sucked, and I cried a hell of a lot. Life has taken its twists and turns since. At first, I felt a little bit lost, but now I'm actually starting to feel excited about all of life's new possibilities. I am once again starting to throw myself into life with passion, as is my habit. I am finding joy in places both familiar and unexpected.

I need this trip, still. I think it's going to help me feel grounded. I'm going with a good friend of mine. I get to see a number of wonderful friends I haven't seen in years. I predict that the next week will be filled with a lot of laughter -- the kind that I love, which leaves me out of breath with a sore belly. And I get to drive across the desert, windows down, Springsteen blasting, singing along to "Born to Run" at the top of my lungs. (Well, more like Dixie Chicks blasting, singing "The Long Way Around" at the top of my lungs.) I will stop on top of a butte somewhere and have a spontaneous dance party just for the hell of it. I will come back stronger, happier, having taken full possession of all of my joy.

Maybe it's no coincidence that I'm going to Phoenix. The trip is purportedly to go see the Mariners at Spring Training. But I know that the God I believe in has a wicked sense of humor, and a way of clubbing me over the head with a 2x4 until I get on the path I'm supposed to be on. (Hello Balkans!) I think that, like the firebird, I need to be renewed.

OK. This was longer than I thought. See you in a week!


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Dreaming of tomatoes...

I had a dream about being overrun with tomatoes last night. This could very well happen, as I started way too many tomato plants. I got a little tomato-happy when I was buying seeds, and bought at least ten varieties. And then, since you have to start more than one of each variety (just in case something goes wrong), I started at least 30 tomato plants. Most of them are healthy and growing away, leaving me with 25 tomato plants.


My house glows in the dark, too, from all the grow lights set up. It looks mighty suspicious from the outside. I'm hoping that my new roommate isn't asked any odd questions by the police while I'm gone next week. A glowing house does have its advantages, though. It's useful for giving directions when people are arriving after sunset. "Take a right on my street and look for the glowing house. That's me!"

I noticed some green fuzz growing on top of my raised bed. So I just boiled some water and put it in my watering can, along with some chamomile tea. Chamomile tea is apparently also a fungicide (like cinnamon, which I just sprayed on my garden), and will deter any more fungus from growing and killing my plants. Green fuzz is usually okay, but gray fuzz is a plant killer.

I built a trellis last weekend. Bought some stakes and string that can bear a "heavy load" (the load isn't marked, which is funny) from the hardware store, and set it up. I spaced the stakes out as evenly as I could along the back, where my peas are growing. I measured out some loops and secured them to the stakes via taut-line hitches. Once the peas get tall enough, I will start to train them to grow inside the support loops. Total cost -- less than $10. And I have one more stake and quite a bit more string!

Spent St. Patrick's Day meeting with people from our new P-Patch and talking about the garden. We will be having a dirt-moving party on Sunday, and after that, we are open for planting! It's exciting. I think I'm going to grow some things that require more space, like squashes and tomatoes. Yay!

One quick plug, and then I have to run. The Early Spring Plant Sale is at Magnusson Park this Saturday. The plant list is up at Seattle Tilth's website, I suggest getting there early (8 AM), before varieties sell out.

Off to go enjoy this lovely sunny day!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Promised Recipe

Sorry for not putting this up right away! I've been busy over the past couple of days.

Here's something relatively seasonal. You can still get potatoes via a CSA (community supported agriculture) share, or at farmers' markets. I used baby leeks and a red onion from my CSA box, too -- baby leeks are starting to be available around here. It's a really good recipe, and super easy. Start it about two hours before you want to eat it -- it's in the oven a long time.

Bean and Potato Gratin with Leeks
Adapted from Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," revised edition

2 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
3 cups cooked or canned white beans, drained but still moist
salt and ground black pepper
3 medium peeled starchy or all-purpose potatoes (I used russets)
1 cup chicken, beef, or vegetable stock
3 tbsp butter (plus another tbsp in which to cook the leeks)
2 cups chopped leek, white and light green parts only (can substitute red onion if you don't have enough leeks)

1. Cook 2 cups chopped leek in butter 20 minutes, until very soft.

2. While the leeks are cooking, heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Stir 1 tbsp of thyme into the beans, and adjust seasoning as needed. Spread beans into the bottom of a baking dish (8x8 square works fine) and set aside.

3. Top the beans with the leek.

4. Halve potatoes lengthwise and slice into thin half circles. Cover beans with potatoes by laying potatoes down in overlapping rows. Pour stock over the top. Put pieces of butter on top. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp thyme.

5. Cover with foil and bake 45 minutes. Remove foil and keep baking until top is browned and glazed, another 45 minutes. Serve immediately or let rest for up to an hour and serve at room temp. (I ate it immediately, and am glad I did!)

This would pair well with a nice red wine. I ate it with a simple spinach and arugula salad with cherry tomatoes.

Even the leftovers are super tasty! And it's almost lunchtime...

More later. Planting the P-Patch today!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Resources and a recipe

My kale went to seed! This is when a plant stops directing energy to producing its edible parts (leafy greens or root veggies, usually) and starts focusing all its energy on producing flowers and seeds. Often, this happens with changes in temperature. The plant senses that cooler or warmer temps are on the way, realizes that it is dying, and starts directing its energy to reproduction. When a plant goes to seed, sometimes its edible parts don't taste so good -- things get tough. So my kale plants are now sitting in the yard waste. I'm glad I sowed some last weekend!

I stayed up late last night potting up a few tomato plants. My little seedlings are getting tall and leafy! I've basically turned the dead space next to my grandmother's large bureau into seed starting space. I bought another grow light (maybe I should have invested in a conventional light, rather than clamp lights), and put six tomato plants into 2-in peat pots. I will likely need to transplant them into larger pots before planting them out in May. The lady who taught the class I took on seed starting said that tomatoes and peppers need supplemental light until they are ready to go outside. I'm going to email or call the Greendays Gardening Show on KUOW next week to see if they say otherwise. It would be great to transfer these things into a window when they get big. And the windows overlooking my bureau are south-facing, making them nice, sunny windowsills.

I'm hoping to get over to the P-Patch to plant tomorrow, but it will depend on the weather. They are predicting clouds and showers around here -- no more torrential rain. We even had hail and snow! Hopefully my plot will dry out enough to plant.

We have some great garden resources here in the Northwest. Here is a list of some. Feel free to let me know about more, too!

Seattle Tilth --
Want to garden but don't know how? Tilth can help! This nonprofit organization offers many low cost classes to gardeners of all experience levels. Their Spring Plant Sale and Fall Harvest Fair showcase local growers, producers, and organizations dedicated to sustainable living and gardening. The Early Spring Plant Sale, which is brand new this year, will be happening on March 20 (next Saturday) from 9-2 at Magnusson Park in Seattle. Come get your leafy green starts!

Lettuce Link --
Have a fruit tree, but can't eat everything it produces? Lettuce Link to the rescue! During summer and fall, Lettuce Link volunteers help pick fruit trees for people all over the Puget Sound region. A volunteer helped pick our pear tree last summer. If you would like to donate your fruit, please, please, please do NOT spray your trees! Lettuce Link donates everything picked to local food banks, and it's better to donate pears that you ignored rather than pears you sprayed.

Seattle P-Patch program --
P-Patches are community gardens that have sprung up all over Seattle. Sometimes there can be a long waitlist for the garden you want, so definitely sign up for one early. There is information here about starting your own P-patch, as well. New gardens distribute plots based on volunteer hours, so if you see one near you starting up, donate some time and you will likely get a plot.

KUOW Green Days gardening panel --
Listen to three experienced gardeners tackle questions of all types! It's really interesting, and often people ask something I am currently thinking about. KUOW does podcast this program -- I often listen to it at work.

The Garden Hotline --
Got a question? Call or email The Garden Hotline, and the master gardeners on the other end will point you in the right direction.

Recipe later -- friends are here!
-- Anna

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cold snap

I am taking a break from Econ to update this. (When the prime example in my head for Econ degenerates to "the marginal benefit of waking up early to go to the gym when that really cute guy is there outweighs the marginal cost of not being able to sleep as late as I want to," it's time for a break.)

Our false spring is over, and it is officially cold. It feels like January outside, and it's the middle of March! We need the snow in the mountains, so I can't complain. I can't help worrying about my little baby plants, though. I'm glad I bought a floating row cover -- a lightweight blanket designed to warm up the soil a little. Everything has sprouted, and I recently put in second sowings of chard, radishes, lettuce, peas, and fava beans. Does anyone know how and when to thin lettuce, and why one seed seems to produce a myriad of plants?

My tomato seedlings are really starting to take off. So much so that I've had to thin them out, and will likely need to thin them again tomorrow. It feels like I am killing my little baby plants by snipping them off at the base, but this will allow the tomato seedling I choose to spare room to root out and grow. A few of them are just about ready to be transplanted into pots. I will need to buy another grow light and set the transplants in another part of the dining room. Then it will really look like I'm growing pot! Although, as a friend of mine asked astutely, "what kind of idiot would grow pot upstairs, where police could see it through a window?"

Funny how being a gardener makes one worry. I am going on vacation in a few weeks, and I will be entrusting my plants to my brother in exchange for $20. I don't want to bother my new roommate with them, and Ryan's fairly reliable if you pay him. But I find myself wondering if they will survive my absence. I hope so. It's disheartening when you put in a lot of effort only to watch your plants die.

Speaking of this, did you know that cinnamon is a fungicide? When starting plants, seedlings can catch harmful fungi from the soil. Damping-off disease kills little baby plants overnight. Both cinnamon and chamomile tea have anti-fungal properties. I sprinkled my indoor seedlings with cinnamon, and will be purchasing some organic chamomile tea to water both the indoor and the outdoor plants with before I go on vacation. You don't need to make a strong tea, a weak one (one or two tea bags to a gallon) should do just fine. One sprinkling of cinnamon on indoor seedlings is all they need to kill any fungi. It's fine to get the cinnamon on the leaves -- it shouldn't hurt them. My house always smells like cinnamon now, too. :)

The single lifestyle is still a bit of an adjustment, but I'm doing okay. Earlier this evening I saw a billboard on a local drugstore proclaiming "we have coconut M&Ms," and I really wanted to call John to tell him -- he'd been trying so hard to find the elusive coconut M&M when we were dating that he had convinced himself they didn't exist. I smiled to myself as the thought passed, proud that I had kept my phone in my purse, and happy that the memory didn't make my eyes water. I feel like I'm sure my tomato seedlings will when they go into transplant shock after leaving their compact little pellets for a great big pot. With water, light, and heat, they will adapt. With time, they will put down roots and grow strong.

As will I. It's just going to take some time. I will walk through this grief, because I know there is joy awaiting me on the other side.

Lacinato Kale

Walla Walla Sweet Onions

No new varieties here!

JUST PLANTED (less than one month)
Champion radish (heirloom)
Mesclun blend lettuce
Freckles lettuce
Marconi red pepper (heirloom)
Oregon sugar pod pea
Rhubarb chard
Sugar Daddy snap pea
Broad Windsor fava beans
North Star sweet bell pepper
Carouby de Maussane snow pea
Sungold tomato
Celebrity tomato
Red, Yellow, and Pink Brandywine tomatoes (heirloom)
Yellow pear tomato (heirloom)
Rainbow heirloom mix tomatoes (heirloom)
Stupice tomatoes
Peacevine cherry tomatoes
Bendigo F-1 pepper
Lacinato kale

Saturday, March 6, 2010

More sproutlings!

It has been absolutely gorgeous here lately in Seattle. The cherry trees are already beginning to blossom, and my pear tree is starting to form buds.On my walk home from the bus yesterday, I noticed that there were a ton of flowers blooming. And, as you can see from the pictures, my kale, Walla Walla sweets, and oregano definitely think it's spring.

Yesterday, I planted a second crop of radishes, chard, lettuce, fava beans, and peas. I put some kale in the ground too. I have a ton of kale right now, but I've never grown kale from seed, and I want to see what happens. So much of gardening is an experiment.

The indoor starts seem to be doing well. I transferred all the tomato seedlings to one flat, and have left the other one set up like a greenhouse. A few more tomatoes have sprouted in that flat. I'm a little perturbed that only one pepper has sprouted -- tomorrow is the 14th day since planting, and I'm trying to figure out if I did something wrong. Are the peat pots too wet? Is my soil too cold? If you have any ideas, let me know. I don't think I can reuse the peat pots, so I'm planning on composting anything that didn't sprout by tomorrow evening, and putting some new plants in the mini-greenhouse.

I will need to start transplanting the tomatoes to something else, too. I think I'm going to get a small flat and yet another grow light. I'll make newspaper pots with a jelly jar, newspaper, and masking tape. Thank goodness I love doing this -- it's a lot of work!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Seed germination

So when you google "seed germination," the fifth thing on the list is "How to germinate marijuana seeds." Clearly, there are a lot of people wondering how to grow pot.

I hope my neighbors don't think I'm growing pot. I have grow lights set up to help my little tomato plants germinate and grow. From their windows, all they can see are the lights, my seed starting mini-greenhouses, and little green seedlings.

It totally looks like I'm growing pot, doesn't it?