Friday, May 29, 2015

Garden Update #1

Well it's hard to believe it's almost June! But we are so ready for summer! It's been beautiful here and we've all been loving the sunshine.

Edward enjoying a good roll in the sun!
They also opened the park splash pads here in Portland and W has been enjoying them every day. With temps in the 80s again today, it's safe to say we'll be back there again this afternoon!

My garden is enjoying the sunshine as well. It also enjoys when I remember to water it. Note to self: remember to water the garden!

The strawberries are really growing and the red one on the right is just about ready to eat. W actually picked another ripe one and gave it the thumbs up, but he's anxiously awaiting sinking his teeth into this bad boy!

I will eat all the strawberries!
The peas are still going strong as well. We picked a few pods that I'm not sure were 100% ready yet but W deemed them very sweet and yummy. Can't wait until the rest of these are ready!

And I just love how the bean stems are wrapping themselves around the bamboo.

We picked some lettuce last night for salad (it was fantastic!) so the lettuce is looking a little sparse but it'll grow back soon. We've also picked a few of the French radishes - very peppery! - but they were on the small side so I'm trying to get  W to leave the rest and let them get a little bigger. I can't decide whether I want to plant another round of seeds or not. Also, the parsley is still doing it's thing. I think B used a leaf or two for cooking and then ate some leaves plain (for breath control) so at least it's getting some use!

And the zucchini and tomatoes are still fighting for control of the patio!

The zucchini leaves are giant and still unfortunately blocking most of the light from the pepper plant, though I've tried to lower the leaves of the zucchini plant but that thing just keeps growing!

Poor Mr. Pepper Plant :(
The yellow tomatoes made their move this week and have started to flower!

Look at that strong stalk!

The red cherry tomatoes are still the tomato champs though, there are about 7 tiny little tomatoes growing!

And I wouldn't want to forget W's pumpkin plant, which he asks about, looks at, and reminds me to water everyday.

Plus I discovered that the second rose bush in my front yard is red! Only two blooms so far but it looks like it's getting ready to go crazy with all the buds on it! Can't wait!

We'll be outside enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful weather while it lasts (it's supposed to rain Monday and Tuesday). Hope everyone has a fantastic weekend!


- c

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A trip to the farmer's market + the rest of the plants

It's a cloudy, misty day here in Portland. But we Pacific Northwesterners don't mind a little rain and we've already been out and about. W had soccer this morning and then we hit up the Portland Farmer's Market at PSU for coffee, breakfast burritos, and artichokes. DeNoble Farms is my go-to stand for produce at the farmer's market and today they didn't disappoint with some really lovely globe and Italian varieties of artichokes. I can't wait to have them for dinner tonight!

When we came home, I noticed that our rose bush out front was blooming beautifully, so I thought I do a quick post on some of the rest of the plants growing around the new house. This rose bush is right outside our front door and adds a real pop of color.

 On the other side of the front walk, under the kitchen window, I have a rhododendron and a hydrangea. The hydrangea I planted myself a couple of weeks ago so it's still fairly small, but you can just see a tinge of blue on the flowers that are starting to bud. I fell in love with hydrangeas back in Seattle but never had a location to plant them in. We actually had another plant in that space but it died over winter, so I pulled it out and popped in the hydrangea. Now I'm happy :-)

I've also got 4 blueberry plants on the side of the house. Right now, only one has anything resembling a blueberry but I have high hopes (maybe not this year but in the future).

Back in the patio garden, it looks like we have our first red strawberry! I think it might need one more day, so I'll try my best to keep W away from it. He'll be my official taste tester when we do pick it. 

Also, the zucchini plant is completely taking over this container. The leaves are so big, the poor pepper plant is forced to huddle in the corner. I think I might need to replant it, but I'm afraid I'll kill it if I do. But then again, it might not survive anyway if the zucchini plant keeps stealing all of its sunlight. What to do?

Well, we are off to a kiddo birthday party  (isn't having kids great! :-p), hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday weekend!


- c

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I'm back!

So after almost 2 years, and a lot of changes, I think it's time to rev this blog up again and document my garden (and probably a bit of my life too). So guess who's back?!

Why hello there!
So first up, the changes. My wonderful husband, B, applied for and received a promotion to a new management position within his company. Great news, right? Of course, but why the fuss? Well this new position was in another region, which means . . . we moved! Not too far away, though. As you might recall (or maybe you don't, it's been like 18 months - sorry!), we lived in Seattle, Washington. Well the new position is in Portland, Oregon!


So we drove the 3 hours South, got ourselves a nice little house, and settled in about 7 months ago. So far we are missing Seattle like crazy but are starting to really like our new city. Especially the excellent public transportation system and amazing bike lanes. We even got a trail-a-bike and W (who is almost 5!!) loves to ride around the town. Every once in a while, he'll even peddle.

So the new house. It's brand new, like "we are the first people to ever live in it" brand new. We weren't looking for a new build, but after living in a 95 year old house in Seattle and dealing with the 95-year old clay pipes, the lack of electrical outlets, and the windows that wouldn't open, we decided that new was fine with us. And it was a good decision. I have 13 electrical outlets in the living room/dining room alone! It's incredible! The only thing this awesome house didn't come with was a huge back yard. In fact, the backyard is pretty small. But again, after the yard in the Seattle house which quickly became overgrown with weeds, bamboo, and other unknown species of plants, it's nice to have something that's easy to maintain. And the light!! I didn't realize how little sun we got in Seattle until we moved here. So far this Spring, I've clocked the back patio as getting 8-10 hours of direct sunlight a day. Which will only go up as the days get longer. Woo-hoo! Finally, I can buy those plants that say "full sun."

So even though we have a very small yard, I decided to try some container gardening for our very first summer here. And we are off to such a great start that I decided to revive the blog! I guess you never know what's around the corner :-)

So a quick tour of what I've got growing:

This may look like a jumble of green, but it's actually 2 tomato plants (a cherry tomato and a golden), a zucchini, and a bell pepper. All growing strong and the cherry tomato (in the lower right) already has a small green tomato in its midst. Also, the zucchini leaves are giant. How's that for starting things off on the right foot!
This little tomato is kind of shy.
W calls the zucchini leaves "elephant ears"

I actually think I should have planted the tomato, zucchini, and pepper in their own containers, but live and learn - and make a note for next year.

I've got some salad bowl lettuce (to the left) that I've already picked off of twice and it just keeps coming back! Love having fresh lettuce in the garden! In the middle are french radishes that we planted from seed and have already picked a few of as well. Very peppery and tasty. I think I'll plant some more to keep these things coming all season! On the far right is flat leaf parsley. I don't want it to seem like I don't respect the flat leaf parsley, but this plant was purchased as part of a buy one, get one free deal and while parsley in the garden seems like a great idea (and we certainly use it in cooking), we never seem to actually pick it and it ends up going to seed or being pulled up at the end of the season unused. My goal this year is to actually. use. the. parsley. We'll see. Any tips on what to use large amounts of parsley for would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I'll be inspired.

From left, beans, peas, and strawberries, oh my!

These are my favorites simply because they will not be stopped. They are growing like crazy and the pea plant already has pods on it!

The pods are empty though. I assume they fill in with peas? I wish there were some way to look up this information, quickly and easily. Oh hello Google! ;-)

Can't wait till this thing goes red!
I gave in and bought one of those prefab strawberry planter thingies filled with plants and it's doing great! The only problem is getting W to wait until the berries turn red before he picks them - unfortunately, several green strawberries will never make it to maturity due to the overzealous nature of a 4 year old! A moment of silence, please.

Arise ye pumpkins!
W is also getting into the act and this very day brought home a pumpkin plant he grew from seed in school. It came home in a biodegradable mini pot so we just dug a hole, popped it in, covered it with soil, and watered gently. He has high hopes of growing several large pumpkins that will be ready to carve for Halloween. That kid is always thinking ahead!

So that's the backyard for now. As I said, it's small, but full of sun (and love and joy and all that other schmoopy stuff) and hopefully we'll be getting some good eats very soon.

I have plans to post garden updates and maybe some other stuff at least twice a week, so stay tuned and welcome back!


- c

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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Potato Farming in Seattle!

Hey, remember me? I know it's been a long time (a whole summer in fact) but I'm back from . . . well back from life, I guess. That's the funny thing about life, it totally gets in the way of what you plan to / mean to / want to do. And since I'm definitely the type that takes on way too much all at once, well, that means this blog has sat dormant for the past couple of months. But it's my goal to get back into it and keep blogging on a more regular schedule. Wish me luck!

So where was I? Oh yeah . . . I had these two adorable planter boxes and was attempting to grow things in them. Well guess what? It worked! Things grew . . . some grew really big and some grew really little and some grew not at all. And some went nuts and took over the whole garden (I'm looking at you, tomatoes!)!

To compare:

My planter boxes at the end of May:

Nice and orderly, yes?

And my planter boxes now:
Basically the tomatoes took over. They would not stop growing! For a long time, we had nothing but little green tomatoes everywhere and I was afraid that Seattle would remember its usual weather pattern (of rain and cold) and we'd end the season with relatively useless green tomatoes (yes, I know you can make fried green tomatoes or tomato salsa or tomato chutney, but really?). Well obviously that wasn't the case. Seattle has had a very warm summer that has been extended to a warm and sunny fall. Nice for people and for plants and my tomatoes have been thriving. In fact, I've stopped watering them completely because we just don't have any more room for tomatoes. Bart has made a batch of delicious marinara sauce that we've eaten and frozen for later, and he's about to make another batch today to use up these:
And you can see from the picture that we have still more tomatoes that are turning redder every day. I'd say we have enough for another batch of sauce and then I'm done. We just don't have that big of a freezer and I'm not ready for canning anything yet.

So I guess it's nice to know that I do have the ability to grow tomatoes, but the lesson learned for next season is NOT to buy 5 tomato plants. That's way too many. Next year, I'll try to remember to buy less.

As for the zucchini, they did well too . . . for a while, and we got some very large zukes:
But then they succumb to some kind of white mold on the leaves and pretty much stopped producing. I pulled the plants and then the tomatoes basically took over that space as well. The peppers were duds; no hot peppers at all and we got two tiny green peppers that we didn't eat because they basically shriveled up and looked really weird after we picked them. I think it's too cold for peppers here, even if we have what's considered a "good" Seattle summer. Another lesson, no peppers next year.

Another lesson learned: grow potatoes! A lot of them! After reading this article, I decided to throw 3 potatoes (2 reds and a russet) that I had on the counter and forgot to use into the ground to see if anything would come of it. Well something definitely came of it! I pulled up the potatoes today because I wanted to have roasted potatoes for dinner tonight and this is my haul:
Can you believe it! That's a lot of potatoes! And yes, some of them were quite small, but there were a lot of good sized ones too. I'm excited to see how "fresh" potatoes taste!

Seriously growing potatoes is the easiest things, I'm definitely doing it again next year. You just put the potato in the ground and cover it with dirt. Ideally, you're supposed to continue to cover any plant growth until you have a mound about a foot high (this will allow your plant to grow more and more potatoes) but I forgot to do that and basically forgot about the potatoes as well. Forgot about them so much that often I didn't even water them (oops!). But look what happened anyway! I wonder how many potatoes I would have harvested if I had actually taken any sort of care with them? I guess I'll have to find out next year :)

The pumpkin patch is doing OK as well (see lack of water excuse above) and we have 4 small pumpkins including this one, which is the biggest:
Since I can't remember what kind of pumpkin it is, I'm not sure if it's supposed to turn orange or not, but I'm going to wait until about the week before Halloween and then pick it and put it on the front steps for decoration. Apparently, growing pumpkins is as low-maintenance as potato growing. Next year, I'll try to stay on top of the whole watering thing and see if I can get some bigger pumpkins.

My goal for this week is to pick the rest of the (blasted) tomatoes, plus see how the onions and carrots are doing. Then I'll trim back the tomatoes a little and plant some arugula starts that I received from a friend. With the way lettuce has previously grown in our yard, I have no doubt we'll enjoy some nice salads before the first frost hits.

I'm also starting to think about planting my winter garden, including garlic and some flower bulbs that will grow next spring.

Thanks for rejoining the planting party and have a great week!

- Christine