Thursday, October 25, 2012

The End is Nigh . . . saying goodbye to the garden.

Am I growing mutant dwarf carrots?!?!

That's my pinky nail!

So after procrastinating quite a bit, then putting it off a bit more, then getting caught up in other things . . . I decided it was finally time to start taking down the summer garden and preparing the planter boxes for winter. I have hopes of growing garlic and shallots over the winter and have to get them in the ground before the first frost (which may or may not have already happened in Seattle, I guess depending on your definition of cold). So that meant getting rid of the massive entanglement of vines, leaves, and other plant matter that had taken over the back yard.

Pretty scary, huh? Yeah, I should have done this along time ago. It was a mess! Vines wrapped in vines, wrapped in leaves, wrapped in dirt, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a riddle . . . where am I going with this? Oh yeah, it was bad. Most of the tomatoes that were left had started to rot on the vine, including this beautiful heirloom tomato, one of the few to actually turn red:

It looked great from the top but as soon as I picked it up, the whole bottom half was eaten out and mushy. Kind of like the tomato version of Jaws . . . dah dum dah dum dah dum dah dum dah DUM!

I was sad to miss out on a good heirloom, but not so much about all of the cherry tomatoes that were still hanging around.

Lesson Learned #1 - don't buy more than 2 tomato plants. Five plants is definitely too many.

At this point, we are tomatoed out. We currently have 2 gallon sized bags full of marinara sauce in the freezer that my wonderful husband made, as well as half a jar in the fridge, all ready for a quick pasta meal. We seriously have no more room for tomatoes. Maybe in the future, if I start canning or something, then the five tomato plants will be awesome, but for now they just became a chore. Every time we looked into the backyard, there they were, the newest batch of ripe tomatoes, taunting us with a "we're ripe, pick us, we're ready." It became so annoying that we started avoiding even going into the backyard. Well today I am reclaiming our yard . . . just in time to shut it down for the winter anyway, but hey, it's the principle of the matter.

So pretty much all of the cherry and heirloom tomatoes were rotted on the vine or on the ground (it was seriously like a bad Shakespeare play, rotten tomatoes everywhere!), but not the Romas! Roma tomatoes must be the hardiest tomatoes around because you can seriously forget about them and let them sit in wet, rainy muck for weeks and they still come out looking perfect, beautiful, and red. I know because this is exactly what I did, but look what I was able to pick out:

Of course I have no desire to keep these in my house, so they were immediately washed up and spirited away to the neighbors' house up the street. She still thinks tomatoes are cool.

So I struggled with the tomato plants for about 45 minutes and let me tell you, they did not want to go! I guess I didn't realize that tomatoes had such thick roots, and long . . . I feel that I probably left a bunch of roots still in the soil but I'll take care of that when I till everything again and add new soil. Once I got the tomato plants out of my planter box and into the yard waste bin, I found some interesting things going on underneath.

Like this pepper:

This was the only thing my pepper plant produced this season. Sure the plant looks great (well it did until I pulled it up and threw it away) but it was essentially a non-producer.

Lesson Learned #2 - don't buy pepper plants, they don't grow! I can only surmise that even after the longest summer in recent history here in Seattle, the weather is just not warm enough for grow peppers reliably. So I'm saying no to peppers next year.

I also found my carrots growing full force. I had originally planted the carrot seeds around the tomatoes because I had read about companion gardening and learned that tomatoes and carrots go really well together. Basically it's not only a good use of a small gardening space but the nutrients in each helps to enrich the other. I definitely think that the tomatoes got the better end of that deal. They grew rampant while the carrots, well . . . see for yourself:

And after a bath and a haircut:

As you can see, they are not very big. In fact I would say some are even miniscule!

To be fair, I did plant a type of carrot that was supposed to be smaller than normal so that they would grow well in a container garden, but I'm pretty sure they aren't supposed to be THAT small. Also, since the tomatoes grew with such abandon, the carrots definitely didn't get enough light. So while I think companion gardening is cool, light is at a premium in my garden and I don't want to make it harder for a plant to grow, so . . .

Lesson Learned #3 - Plant carrots on their own and in a container. Since they are made for containers, I think I will plant them in one next year. That way I can make sure they get enough sunlight and really grow to their full (smallish) potential. We will be eating these though, because they are good! I tasted one raw and it was delicious! This is going to sound silly, but they really tasted "carrot-y" more so that anything I've tasted in a long time. I guess it's true that things really do lose a lot of their flavor on the trip from the farm to the store. I will definitely be growing these again next year.

So all of the tomato plants and any other thing growing in the planter boxes have been removed either to my kitchen or the compost bin. The next job is to turn the soil over and add some organic fertilizer to get it ready for the garlic and shallots that I shall plant . . . oh, one of these days.

I would have done the soil today but I accidentally walked into a huge spider web and had somewhat of a gigantic freak-out. There was much jumping around and slapping at my hair and upper body. I'm assuming it looked crazy dorky because the UPS man who had come around to the back of the house to drop off a package just as it happened gave me the strangest look. I tried to explain but he just shook his head and handed me a box. Oh well, I'm sure he's seen worse . . .

And the box? A very nice surprise! A couple of weeks ago I entered a contest online at Tough Cookie Mommy and won a Divine Chocolate Gift Pack from Divine Chocolates USA! It was filled with 4 yummy chocolate bars, 2 bars of baking chocolate, and a container of Cocoa, all Fair Trade and owned by the Kuapa Kokoo farmers. Check out their website for more info because it's a really great company!

Lesson Learned #4 - always entered contests with chocolate as a prize because it's really awesome when you win!

So a long put off task was accomplished and my reward was chocolate! If I'd have known there was going to be chocolate, I would have done it a lot sooner.

Next time - turning the soil, planting the garlic, and picking the pumpkins.

Until then,


- Christine

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Unseasoned Baker: Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins!

So I do a lot more than garden (obviously since I really don't do all that much gardening), but today I did something really fun with my little guy, Weston. We made another batch of Weston's Famous Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins!

Fall weather (yes, it is starting to get a little chilly here in the Pacific NW) really makes me think of pumpkins and I thought baking would be a fun project on a slightly sleepy morning for both of us.

I found the original recipe here and modified it a little:

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar (I only added 1 cup and it's definitely sweet enough!)
  • 1 (16 oz.) can pureed pumpkin (Since I could only find a 15 oz. can, I mashed up an overripe banana and added it to the mix - no complaints. I've also used 2 tablespoons of applesauce as well)
  • 1 1/2 cups oil (I used 1 cup coconut oil and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil- seems really oily when you first mix it in but trust me, it's necessary)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I've left this out on several occasions and it still tastes great!)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 package chocolate chips
In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, sugar, pumpkin, and oil until smooth. Add in dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in chocolate chips. Fill greased or paper-lined muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake 16-20 minutes at 400 degrees.
Makes 24-30 muffins.

Weston helped by cracking eggs into the bowl (and yes, I fished out all of the shells), pouring the sugar, pumpkin, and flour, and mixing it all up with the mixer. Mixing is definitely his favorite part, if you ask him about making muffins, he'll automatically say "I mix it!" So cute :)

They turned out great! And they sure smelled like pumpkins and fall :)

Weston enjoyed them!
 (this picture is actually from the last time we made these muffins - about a week ago - but he looked pretty much the same eating them this time!)

Even though I can't eat them right now (I'm on a gluten-free diet for another week), I've been assured by several people that they are the best!

So there's no time like the present, make these muffins now!

Cheers :)

- Christine