Friday, December 31, 2010

Adios 2010

I kept waiting for a day—a day where I felt inspired and particularly eloquent. I’ve felt inspired plenty of times, and perhaps even eloquent once or twice, but ever since my surgery I’ve not been able to put the right words together. I haven’t even known what to write about. I tried once or twice, but it felt forced.

I felt like I missed the end of summer and most of those bright, crisp fall days that trick you into thinking winter might not be so bad after all. I watched life go by from my recliner, then through short walks down the driveway and eventually all the way to the mailbox. It wasn’t all bad—not even mostly bad. I was (and am) thankful for so many things—mainly my health and my loved ones.

I watched as the Boyfriend took over the gardening duties (all the duties, for that matter) and delighted in the fact that it truly is our garden. He weeded, watered, and harvested. He wrangled our sunflowers as they threatened to collapse under their own floppy weight and take the corn down with them. He waged an all-out war against our one zucchini plant, and depending on the day, the victor is still up for debate. As a side note, thank goodness the dogs trampled that second zucchini plant early in the season. Still, I was sad to miss the most fruitful time of the year in the garden. I did my best to help by making more zucchini dishes than I’d care to admit. (If you ever need some recipes for zucchini . . . ) I never got a year-end picture of the garden, but I did snap a few of our fall harvest. Perhaps I’ll post those in the dreary days of January when sweet corn seems like it must grow in a distant fantasy world.

But the thing I’ve struggled to write about most is the incredible love and support I’ve felt in these last few months. The outpouring of kindness from friends and family has been indescribable. When other people have fallen on hard times, I’ve always struggled to find the right thing to say and felt awkward in my ultimate decision. But I realized this fall that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it—it only matters that you do. Knowing people are behind you, thinking about you, and sending positive thoughts your way is all that matters.

So here’s to a great 2011. I’m starting to realize that years aren’t defined by the presence or absence of challenges and hard times, but the way you choose to handle them. Life inevitably brings challenges, but those challenges can make life richer and deeper than you ever knew. Wishing you and yours the best in the upcoming year!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Here's to you, Grandma Zada

Last night I raised a glass to Grandma Zada. Actually, I raised a bottle--a bottle of MGD, of course. There was a Mirror Pond in the fridge, but it just didn't seem right. So I ran to the store while the Boyfriend baked us some wonderful zucchini slices and wandered around the "domestic" section until I found those familiar looking bottles. I planned to drink my beer out on the patio, where she would have enjoyed it most, but instead we found ourselves rushed for time. We got to go visit our good friends' new baby last night. So instead, the Boyfriend and I made a toast in the kitchen. Sure, Grandma didn't love to cook, but I think she would have loved that we were cooking with vegetables from our own garden.

I wish Grandma could have seen our garden and our house, but I feel like she's really a part of it. There is no other explanation for my love of the garden except for Grandma. I think of her every time my hands are in the dirt, and I especially think of her every time I manage to grow a few pretty flowers. Each gladiola that I cut this summer made me think of her and our magnificent floral arrangements I made when I visited her and Grandpa in Nebraska. She had the most beautiful flowers. I'd love to show her our corn and ask her what she did to make those raspberries out by the alley so sweet and wonderful and abundant.

Here's to you, Grandma. Your legacy is in everything we've done to turn this space into our place, and in every summer evening we enjoy on our patio. Your granddaughters were thinking of you yesterday, especially about that time when beer thirty was rolling around . . .

Friday, August 20, 2010

What the carrots are saying

I've often heard about people who see Jesus in their food--in their Cheetos or pancakes or chicken nuggets--and previously these accounts had inspired nothing more than bewildered amusement and maybe a chuckle. But lately, I've been finding myself a tad bit jealous. They get Jesus, and I get this . . .

a hot-dog-shaped carrot.

This strange little guy (which is actually making me a bit hungry at the moment) came straight out of a bag of baby carrots from the store. So imagine my surprise when I dug this out of the ground this week . . .

I don't know what image you see in this carrot, but I see fat legs in tight pants.

What are the carrots trying to tell me? We have been eating a lot of hot dogs lately--the real kind, not the carrot impostors--so perhaps they're telling me that eating hot dogs makes you look fat in your stretchy pants and I should stick to carrots instead. Ugh, why couldn't I have just seen Jesus on one of my zucchini instead?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Monday Update 8.16.10

The garden is looking quite good, if I do say so myself. We're enjoying huge bouquets of basil that are spinning and whirring themselves into wonderful pesto. I think we have enough green (well, purple) beans to harvest and have a small side dish. I know we have carrots that need to be eaten, but I've been neglecting them ever since we covered the garden with mulch and I don't see their orange tops poking out of the soil anymore.

Our first giant sunflower finally opened this past weekend. They were supposed to grow 10-feet-tall and I'd say they're about there. This particular variety, Arikara, is a North America native and is supposed to be good for its edible seeds. I love seeing that big happy flower out there high above our fence.
The cucumber that I direct seeded in the garden extremely late after my transplants officially died has started producing cute little cucumbers and is growing quite well. Speaking of growing quite well, I haven't been poking around in the garden as much as usual because our sprinklers have been coming on more often and I haven't had to water as much lately. So the Boyfriend came in Sunday and asked if I had seen our watermelon. I told him we didn't plant watermelon, at which point he took me outside to see it. The "watermelon" he was referring to was a giant zucchini. It might not have actually been as big and round as a watermelon, but it was definitely one of those giants that had somehow evaded us while it beefed up. It'll be perfect for zucchini patties . . . I can taste them already . . .

The corn is looking great! Most of the stalks have a couple of little ears on them and they're growing fast. I honestly can't believe our corn seems to be working out. I'm hoping we get between 15 and 20 ears. The Boyfriend asked if we were going to have people over and share our corn of if we would freeze some. How nice of him. The thought of sharing hadn't crossed my mind . . . not this year anyway! If it's as juicy and sweet as the ears of corn I remember from my great grandpa's garden in Nebraska when I was little, there will be no sharing. Maybe next year . . .

The Siletz tomato is finally pumping out some red tomatoes. They're such a nice smaller size. They don't crack and I haven't had a bad looking fruit yet. I wish some of our other tomatoes were producing, but I'm happy the Siletz in the container has been a success.

And finally, the endless summer of broccoli continues . . .

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Places and thermometers

About six weeks ago, the Boyfriend and I were in Tennessee. Although the occasion was a sad one, it was also, as the Boyfriend has said, a celebration of a great man's life. It was a time to embrace family and watch the world go by in one of the most beautiful settings I've ever seen. This is one of the Boyfriend's "places"--a place that holds so many memories that my mind struggled to keep up with the beautiful pictures he painted for me with the enthusiasm of the 10-year-old who explored this place so many years ago. I couldn't tell if it felt like a lifetime ago or a year ago, but he showed me this place like he had just been there in his childhood the week before.

The house we stayed in was a newer addition, an addition his grandfather built with his own hands just to give his grandchildren the type of wonderful memories the Boyfriend was describing to me. Behind the house was now a sloped field of green grass, but as we walked through it I could almost taste the homegrown vegetables the Boyfriend described to me. Knowing that he walked through rows of his grandmother's home garden made me understand his tendency to wander into our tiny garden each evening to see how everything can change in a single day. He comes from a family that knows what it's like to put down roots and get to know a place.

The Boyfriend's memories were vivid and detailed--the morning glories, the lightning bugs, and his grandmother's decorative peacock feathers brought his stories to life. This was where he spent some of his favorite summers as a child, and it made me think of Ogallala and my own family. Especially when we went into the kitchen one day and noticed the thermometers.

It might seem like a silly thing, but those thermometers--there were at least three hanging in the kitchen--rushed me back to my summers in Ogallala with my own grandparents. I loved to pull the bedroom curtains back and look outside at that thermometer. This was the BWC era: the before-weather-channel era. I don't remember why I looked at that thermometer so much, but I imagine it was to check the temperature before we went golfing, or cutting flowers in the back yard, or out on the patio for beer thirty. Beer thirty was my favorite part of the day because everyone sat outside and just talked--much like our evenings in Tennessee. I played in the grass and drank pop and we ate Cracker Barrel cheese. Good friends showed up unannounced and pulled up a chair. Life was slow, friendly, and in the moment. No one wanted to be, or thought about being, anywhere else. No one was watching reality TV, or any TV for that matter.

I realized these thermometers symbolized a different era for me. A time when people were at least connected enough to their place that they looked outside to see what the temperature was, rather than firing up the laptop or turning on the TV. I liked that. When we got back from Tennessee, we went on a mission to find a thermometer. I wanted one like those that I saw in the house in Tennessee--one that had the phone number for a local business on it or one that had blue jays and cardinals on it--but I settled for one of the few we found and it's just fine. Plain, low-tech, cheap, and easy to read.

I had one request--that I be able to see it from my office. So the Boyfriend mounted it on the east side of the house knowing full well that it would receive sunlight 8 hours of the day. Even though it's approximately 120 degrees from 9:30 to 4:00, I still love it. I look at it every morning and every night before I open up the house. I might mount it in a different spot to make it more usable other hours of the day, but it has been one of my favorite additions to our place this year.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Monday Update 8.2.10

At the risk of giving people the false expectation that I may post my Monday Update every Monday, rather than every other, I still had to post today because at long last our first tomato is turning red. I was about to start investigating recipes for green tomatoes since the lycopene in our garden appeared to be on strike. But yesterday I finally noticed the light yellow hue that promised me garden-fresh tomatoes were finally in my future.

I also wanted to update with this picture because I couldn't believe looking back at last week's update how much our sunflowers have grown. They've reached the top of the fence, which makes it look like they must have grown almost a foot in the last week. The earwigs are still quite content, nestled in the top every morning. I tried to kill some yesterday, but it didn't go so well. They were too quick for me to grab and get them in the can of soapy water before they jumped for dear life off my trowel. I'm thinking tweezers might be my next approach. Maybe I'll actually get brave enough to use my hands, but cut me some slack. Earwigs are deeeesgusting!

I finally pulled out the leaning tower of pea plants on Saturday. The carrots seem to be enjoying their new-found head room. In place of the peas, I transplanted one of the yellow pear tomatoes that was in the container on the deck with another plant. They were crowded and the Boyfriend had the good suggestion to let them part ways and give it a go on their own. Fulfill your destinies little buddies!

We did harvest our first zucchini this week and more are on the way. I killed more squash bug eggs this weekend and attempted to kill one adult, but trying to stab him through his middle with kitchen shears didn't seem to be very effective (or humane, but that's clearly not my primary concern!). The plants still look good so I think we're staying on top of them. Too bad the earwigs don't eat the squash bugs and earn their room and board!

I just noticed the beginnings of tassels on our corn this weekend, at least I assume that's what it is. I'm not brave enough to let myself think of the absolutely unbeatable and unmistakable taste of homegrown sweet corn just yet, but I think we're getting one step closer!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Monday Update 7.26.10

For as stinky as that fish emulsion is, I sure think it's worked wonders on our corn. The corn and some other veggies are going to get another dose tonight, but since the first dose two weeks ago I think our corn has really improved. We're getting a lot of growth on everything, except our peppers, but not a lot of production yet (except on our peppers--they're determined to be the world's smallest pepper bearing plants, I think). The beans finally have some baby beans on them, and after eating fresh beans from the Master Gardener's garden, I couldn't be more ready to have some of our own! We've got a couple of good looking zucchini in the back bed. The Boyfriend and I murdered the squash bug eggs this week and the plant still looks very healthy. As you can see, the sunflowers are also really taking off. As far as I can tell, they're currently serving as high-rise condos for an impressive number of earwigs. Ew.

The peas have finally realized I am not going to extend their trellis and are toppling over. They're actually still producing, but some of the plants are starting to yellow and I can't imagine they'll last much more than a couple weeks. We've harvested a bunch of the muscade carrots, but the Danver's half longs don't seem to be maturing much. I planted more lettuce and carrot seeds last week, but I'm not sure if it's too hot for them to germinate outside. The beans have come up in the front raised bed where we pulled the garlic out, so hopefully we'll be getting a nice, spaced-out bean harvest.

The basil started putting up flowers this past week, so the Boyfriend pinched those off and we should finally get to start harvesting the long awaited basil. The potatoes are still out of control, but seem to have slowed their growth finally. It's been consistently hot now, so I finally mulched with this week's yard clippings.

I've really enjoyed the gladiolas the last couple of weeks. Although I swore I wouldn't dig these bulbs up and save them for next spring, there have been a couple gorgeous flowers that I might just have to make an exception for. Now if I can just remember which plant they came from . . . One of the replacement hydrangeas Erik got us is also in full bloom and looks gorgeous. I added soil acidifier so we would get beautiful vibrant blue blooms, but I quite like the color we ended up with. The survivor hydrangae is starting to bloom as well.

I trimmed up our garlic last night after it dried outside for three weeks. They look beautiful. We ended up with a couple scraggly little ones, but all the rest look great. The hardnecks definitely came out the best. We've got them all hanging in a mesh bag in the pantry ready for use. I'll save the best looking one to plant in the fall and then maybe try another variety as well.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Garlic: A Love Story

I have fallen in love with an Allium. That's right, an Allium. Allium is a genus of plant that is basically the onion family--onions, shallots, leeks, chives, and garlic. When I planted our garlic bulbs on September 5, I had no clue what to do with them. So I did nothing. I didn't mulch over them in the winter like I was supposed to. I think I did throw some compost around them in the spring, which apparently was a good move but it only happened because I had some extra from another bed. In any case, I knew nothing about garlic. I planted two different kinds: Chesnok Red (a hardneck) and Early Italian Purple Grape (a softneck). I thought the garlic would be ready for harvest in the early spring, but I was (shockingly) wrong on that guess. Then I thought it might be ready in June. I did some poking around in books and online and mine just didn't seem ready. I dug down to see the bulbs and they were small and green onion-like. So I left them alone. They looked scraggly, dead, and completely fed up with my abuse.

On July 5th I was lying in bed and thinking about my garlic. (Of course I was, doesn't everyone?) I decided the next day was the day. In the morning when I took the dogs out, I plucked out one of the softnecks and much to my surprise it looked like garlic. I don't know when I will cease to be amazed by plants growing and doing what they've evolved to do, but clearly it's not yet. I pulled the next one out by the leaves, but the stalk broke away from the bulb, which I could see firmly lodged in the dirt below. I decided I'd wait until that evening and harvest them. I announced my plan to the Boyfriend and he was equally excited for the garlic harvest.

We went out to the garden in the evening for the big event. Much to my surprise, the lone bulb that had broken away from the stalk was gone. I hope one of the neighbor cats ate it and hated it and has learned its lesson. In any case, with the exception of that one loss, we harvested all the other bulbs by digging underneath them and prying them out--five softnecks and eight hardnecks.

As long as I live, I will never forget that evening in our garden. One by one we lifted those pungent bulbs out of the ground and each time I was amazed that another legitimate garlic bulb emerged from our garden. The air smelled so good that the Boyfriend kept taking deep breaths and letting out the satisfied sigh that usually accompanies dinner preparation activities at our household. As the bulbs started stacking up on the grass, I realized we probably had a 6- to 9-month supply of garlic here. We were putting away food that would become a part of so many of our meals over the coming months.

I had my Bible outside with me. Yes, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible. That's actually what it's called. I love this book for two reasons: it has answers to everything garden-related--including individual write-ups about every vegetable and herb--and because author Edward C. Smith appears on the glossy cover and reminds me of Ducky from NCIS every time I see him. In any case, the book is wonderful. It answers questions I didn't even know I had. When my tomato plants were purple this spring I thought it was odd but didn't give it any more thought. Then one night I was mindlessly flipping through the Bible and saw that purple tomatoes need phosphorus. I'm happy to report I no longer have purple tomatoes.

So anyway, back to the garlic. I had my Bible outside with me to show me how to take care of these bulbs now that I had unearthed them. Following directions carefully (yay me!), I peeled back the first two leaves that created the outer layers of the garlic bulb. As the second layer came off, I think the angels sang. What appeared was a sparkling white and absolutely gorgeous garlic bulb. I repeated this process 14 more times. The angels sang each time.

In the meantime, the Boyfriend seemed less concerned with the angels and more excited to build something. He built our garlic a safehouse. Since some thieving creature had already walked away with one of our precious bulbs, we weren't going to take any chances. These bright white beauties had to stay outside to dry out for the next 2 to 3 weeks, so the Boyfriend built a little garlic cage to keep them safe. It is no exaggeration to say we have the most-loved garlic on the planet at this point.

Will harvesting garlic always be this exciting? Probably not. But I think it will always make me happy, and I know I will never forget our first garlic harvest. Both of us working away in the garden, the air saturated with that delicious garlic aroma, and feeling completely connected to this place. As it turns out, garlic becomes uniquely adapted to its microclimate over time. After you buy your first garlic bulbs at the nursery, each year you should save some of your own harvest to plant for the next season. Your garlic will gradually become particularly suited to its place. I think garlic might just be my vegetable soul mate.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Monday Update 7.12.10

So much has been happening around the garden, and we're finally seeing (and eating) some of the fruits (mostly vegetables) of our labor. In the last week or so, we harvested our first carrots, which looked beautiful when they came out of the ground. They were sticking out of the soil a bit, which is how I noticed they were big and beautiful. (Apparently the Boyfriend knew about these orange beauties and was keeping them a secret.) In any case, my enthusiasm dropped significantly when I cut into these carrots and realized they were a brilliant shade of neon green in the middle. Apparently we let them grow a little too long and it sounds like they got exposed to too much sunlight. I promptly went out and picked some smaller ones and they looked (and tasted) great. We made another stirfry with more broccoli and our carrots. Super yummy, but can't wait until we can add our peppers and basil to the mix!

We also pulled up our one red potato plant. We knew it was too early, but it was taking a turn for the worse and our other potatoes (all fingerlings) looked great, so we thought we should rip out the one plant that didn't look so good. I was like a 4-year-old at Christmas. Obvious I had never harvested potatoes before. The Boyfriend pulled the whole plant out, and a few tiny white orbs were attached to the roots. I thought that was it. But then the Boyfriend loosened the dirt and as I dug around in the ground my hand came upon some bigger potatoes and then finally some real-looking potatoes! It was like digging for treasure. Each time my fingers grasped around a tiny tuber, I pulled it out and held it up in the air like I had unearthed the most magnificent thing you had ever seen. It was so incredibly cool. I let the potatoes dry out a bit then put them in a paper bag to cure. Some are too small to use and others seem to have been pierced or otherwise damaged, but I think we'll have a few we can actually use. It makes me so excited for the next plants!

The Siletz tomato is going crazy. There are dozens of little tomatoes on it and one bigger one. We have a couple baby yellow pear tomatoes as well. The Cuor di Bue is doing well, but no signs of tomatoes yet. The gladiolas finally opened up last week and we've had two dark pink ones that I've loved having in the kitchen.

Our peas have gone absolutely crazy. They're higher than the fence now and we've been picking dozens at a time. Our harvest today included a bunch of peas, a few carrots, and a couple radishes. You might also notice the giant empty spot where our garlic once lived. We finally harvested our garlic last week, but more about that in another post. In the vacated space, we planted a few pepper plants from the store (we've never had good luck with bell peppers, so we tried a couple plants) and some more bean seeds.

The back bed looks good. I think the corn is growing and the sunflowers are definitely getting tall. Yesterday I put some fish emulsion on the corn (and other veggies) so hopefully that will give it the boost it needs. Our raspberries, despite some sick looking leaves, are still forming baby berries and I finally ate one or two the other day. This evening we dug out the strawberries and the Boyfriend took off the bottom of the little box they were in. I had completely forgotten that little raised bed had a bottom. (It was the one I had planted a square foot garden in at the Mini last spring!) If they survived the uprooting and replanting, I think they'll be a lot happier and more productive.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Monday Update 6.28.10

The weather is heating up (mid-90s today!) and we're eating some new things out of the garden. Last week, the Boyfriend harvested a nice large bowl full of broccoli and made us a delicious stirfry, which also included fresh green onions from the garden. The broccoli was bright green and so fresh. We were a little late picking some of it since we had an unexpected trip out of town, but we still had a lot to enjoy. We've got lots more coming on as well. I also harvested some sugar snap peas this weekend for the first time. I only got a few, but already this morning there seemed to be many more that are almost ready.

The Siletz tomato continues to outgrow the rest. It already seems bigger than the one I grew last year. We've got a little baby green tomato in there and lots of flowers. Speaking of flowers, I noticed yesterday that one of the gladiolas is showing signs of a flower, which is super exciting. I've never grown gladiolas, so it's fun to see them grow and watch the changes.

The potatoes have completely overtaken their half of the raised bed and seem to be about ready to flower. The zucchinis have big beautiful flowers on them and seem to be doing really well. I feel like the corn isn't growing much, but it's still alive, so that's a win for us. The raspberries have finally started to reach the top wire of the trellis, which signifies nothing except I like being able to tell that they're growing! Our strawberries are not producing anything but little deformed nubbins, but the Boyfriend's strawberries at the Townhouse are still going crazy.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Monday Update 6.15.10

Some perceptive folks out there might realize this is not Monday. However, the Boyfriend and I took yesterday off, so this is my Monday, which makes my Monday Update completely legit. On with it then . . .

This weekend the weather finally warmed up into the 80s, which seems to have really helped the garden. The tomatoes are doing really well, particularly the Siletz, but I think all of them have some flowers on them. I'm so happy the Siletz made it. It was the only seed that came up, so I didn't have a second shot at that one this year. Yay for survivors.

I have given up trying to understand what is going on with the garlic, but this week the scapes appeared. They're not as curly as the ones I've seen pictures of, but they're unmistakable all the same. I don't know if I'll have enough to cook with, but I'm sure I'll give it a shot. They're supposed to make a fabulous pesto and given the small (but growing!) condition of the basil, we could use some fresh pesto right now! In the front raised bed, the broccoli continues its Jurassic-Park-like growth. The leaves are massive, and even better, one of the plants is developing a really nice, big head of florets. We should be eating some fresh broccoli in no time!

In the back raised bed, the peas finally flowered this week and are quickly outgrowing their trellis. I tried to tame them with some twine yesterday. The Boyfriend thinks it really made the garden look classy! We also still have a lot of lettuce to eat before it bolts. We harvested two nice Little Gem romaine heads last night for a fantastic salad. We also ate our spinach harvest--which was all of about 15 leaves--this week. The carrots have grown a lot, but not enough to constitute real carrots yet, as I learned this week when I picked a tiny, flimsy, orange-ish root that slightly resembled a carrot. Oops. I guess this gardening thing takes patience. Ugh!

In the back bed along the fence, things are still growing, but the new seeds haven't come up yet. The surface of the soil seems so hard that I'm wondering if they aren't able to break through. That being said, I circled our two zucchini plants with radishes this past week and the radishes came up quite quickly. So here's to hoping some more melons, beans, sunflowers, and nasturtiums are still on their way! I'm hoping the radishes will keep the squash bugs away. The zucchini are doing well. The one I was sure the dogs killed even has a baby zucchini on it!

In the side raised bed, the warm weather has helped the basil growth. I direct sowed a few more basil seeds, because we really can't have too much basil, and they came up as well. This week we also tried to cover our potatoes a bit more, but we ran out of room to add any additional dirt. I hope we were able to hill them enough.

We have a few ripening yet deformed strawberries, but I've been content munching on berries from the Townhouse in the meantime. We also have what looks to be the beginning of some raspberries, which I'm pretty excited about.