When It Rains It Pours

Somewhere there is some Garden God laughing.

“Haha, Claire,” he is saying with an evil chuckle, “Start writing about your garden… and I will go and really mess it all up.”

This is currently what I am dealing with.

It all began about two weeks ago…

Adam and I knew we were being ambitious.

We had big plans for the garden, but we also had the rest of the yard to think about. We moved into our newly built house in early 2013. Landscaping is the goal for this summer.

And, for the record, landscaping is a lot of work.

Scratch that.

Just getting grass planted and growing is a lot of work.

We spent much of Mother’s Day weekend spraying the bazillion weeds that had crept up and then tilling the yard up.

The house sits on five acres. This was a big undertaking.

Adam sat on a tiller for a total of sixteen hours. (And got an amazing farmers tan in the process.) During this we also tilled up the entire garden including the new garden beds. We have gone from last years eight to twenty four.

Twenty. Four.

While Adam was on the tiller, I went out to last years garden beds to weed and remove all the straw we laid last fall to cover the garlic and strawberry plants.

The strawberries looked pretty good. They were full of weeds, but were flowering and look like we will have a good amount of berries in the next few weeks.

However, of the one hundred garlic cloves we planted last fall we have about ten that made it through the brutally cold winter.

I am bummed.

We use garlic so often. I was looking forward to having bulbs straight from our backyard.

The silver lining is that I don’t have to thin the bulbs out.

So, there is that.

And, then…

Last week, I set the seedlings outside on an afternoon that was sunny and warm to help harden them off. Hardening off seedlings helps them to build a resistance and strength against small rainstorms and wind.

I wasn’t prepared for the element that would wreck havoc my tomato and pepper plants on that nice afternoon.

My dear darling chickens decided that the small seedlings looked like a good snack while I worked in my office just inside.

… We nearly had Free Range Indiana Hen for dinner that night.

I was not pleased.

I transferred the partically chewed tomatoes to new flats with new soil and, now, ten days later they are looking a bit better.

I just don’t know how many times I am going to have to save these tomatoes.

And, then… last week it rained.

It rained a lot.

So the plants didn’t see sunlight for a while and the ground was soaked.

We couldn’t work compost into the dirt. We couldn’t get the plants out of the flats and into the ground. We couldn’t even walk through the backyard to the garden without sinking.

The ground is still muddy.

And the plants are still in the flats.

The goal is to get the plants into the ground today after work.

I keep telling myself, “They aren’t dead until they are dead!”

But, they look pathetic.

I can’t help be think they are longing for leg room.

And, in the back of my mind I am wondering if they really are too far gone.

I may be chalking last years sucessful garden to beginners luck and purchasing plants to get things going.

I guess that’s how things go sometimes.

May Sarton

May Sarton

Hope your gardens are looking much better than mine!

Love ‘Em to Death

Last week Adam and I transplanted the seedlings from their starter kits to larger flats. The seedling’s love the extra leg room and are beginning to look like plants.

Zucchini, Cucumbers and Kale... getting big!

Zucchini, Cucumbers and Kale… getting big!

While we were transplanting the seedling’s I noticed that the tomato plants didn’t look so great. They didn’t have a good green color. They looked… purple.

As I pulled the flat closer to me I realized it was kind of heavy and with further investigation I found that the plants were sitting in about a half inch of water.

Water is important for plants, but these guys were saturated.

We found that the cause was from Adam and me both watering them each day. I had been traveling for work so Adam thought I wasn’t able to get to it. We didn’t talk about it. One thing led to another… and the seedlings were over watered.

Yes. Like I just said, watering your plants is important. And necessary. But, there’s a fine line.

Over watering is actually worse than under watering. Over watering prevents a plant from obtaining nutrients and oxygen to develop their roots.

You would think that the more attention you give your plants, the better they would do.

But, that’s not the case.

You can actually love your plants to death.

Fortunately, with the tomato plants, we found it early and acted quickly. We put them into new flats with new soil. The tomatoes are looking much better and my mind is running wild with images of all the caprese salads that will grace my table come August.

Tomato plants looking better and getting adult leaves.

Tomato plants looking better and getting adult leaves.

I have fallen victim to loving a plant to complete death before. I bought a rosemary plant and thought it would be so cute to grow on my kitchen island in a large, rustic coffee mug. I didn’t know rosemary needs to be in pot that drains water well.

My coffee mug did not do the job.

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The old water sat in the bottom of the mug causing the root to rot which prevented water and nutrients getting to the plant. What happened is that it looked like it was dry and I kept watering it. Soon, the plant was dead.

I now have a rosemary plant in a Terra cotta pot that I water when the soil dries out and it is doing great.

Much better!

Much better!

Here are a few other watering tips:

– Gardens typically need about an inch of rain each week. But, like a healthy diet, everything in moderation. One inch in twenty minutes isn’t great for a plant. Keep an eye on the weather and supplement as needed.
– If the weather gets particularly hot and dry, you may need to water more. And, if it’s cool it may not need as much.
– Water plants in the morning. This ensures that water dries off, instead of staying on the plant all through the night making it susceptible to fungus and bacteria. And, if you water them in the middle of the day, the water might evaporate before it’s absorbed by the plant.
– Provide water directly to plants roots versus spraying all over.
– Get a sprayer head that is designed for gardens. It will ensure the rate of the spray isn’t too strong and some are designed to make it easy to reach in-between plants.

Love your plants.

… Just not to death.

Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Three

Note: This is the final post in a three part series to celebrate National Agriculture Day that will show my (non-traditional) journey to Agriculture. My hope with this story is to shed light on the many different faces of a “farmer” and how those who are not born into family farms can still learn, celebrate, find careers and purpose in this important industry.

Becoming a Farm Girl: Part One
Becoming a Farm Girl: Part Two

Adam and I had a blast together at the fraternity dance and continued to see each other.

It didn’t take me long to see that he was completely different from all of the other guys I had ever dated.

And, it wasn’t just because he drove a big, diesel truck you could hear coming down the road causing all the girls in my sorority to yell “Bye Claire!” before he would pick me up for a date.

He was a good friend. He made me a priority. He was motivated and intelligent. He was a leader on campus.

And, he had a job lined up after graduation… in Indianapolis.

At another one Adam's fraternity's formals as we approached graduation.

At another one Adam’s fraternity’s formals as we approached graduation.

The more I learned about him, the more I loved and I began to redefine my job search. By Valentine’s Day, I had a job offer of my own in Indianapolis.

Flash forward three years, Adam had returned to his small hometown to work with his dad at their family agriculture construction business and, after our May 2011 wedding, I joined him.

May 21, 2011.

May 21, 2011.

A hospitality job was hard to come by in the small town, so when a local school reached out because they were looking for a food and nutrition director, I took the job.

It was a great school, but it was by no means my “dream” job. I often felt confined by the rules and regulations in the world of school lunch and my culinary creativity was pretty stifled within the medium of chicken nuggets.

I spent a lot of time trying to make my day to day more stimulating.

After getting to know some of the students, I wanted to do more to make students feel engaged and excited about lunch. I began to look around at the many school lunch websites and blogs to see what other directors across the nation were doing to enhance their school lunch programs. One program that really caught my eye was Farm to School.

Farm to School is a program that connects school lunch programs to local farmers and provides education opportunities, such as school gardens and field trips. Programs were strong in states like California and Texas.

I loved the idea. After all that I had learned about farming and where food comes from in my college years and summer internship, I thought it was a great thing to teach kids, especially those who grew up like me. I wanted to teach them there is no stereotypical “farmer” and they can grow food too, be it in their own backyard or as a potential career down the road.

In late 2012 I reached out to the leaders to see what the program was doing in the state of Indiana. I learned that the program was in its early stages of getting off the ground. I asked if I could get involved and was met with an eager “yes.”

I was actually the first food service director involved in the Indiana group full of local growers, Extension officers, leaders in the Nutrition Services of the Department of Education and more. Because of this, I was asked to speak on a panel at the 2013 Horticulture Congress in Indianapolis to introduce local growers to the program and gauge interest.

I even made the cover of AgriNews... which really excited Adam!

I even made the cover of AgriNews… which really excited Adam!

The impact this day had on me was amazing. I think it may be the first time in my life that I truly felt inspired.

The panel went great, but what was so exhilarating to me was meeting all the people who grew food and were creating unique products with their food. Their products were fabulous. They had neat stories and passion.

Ironically, the congress was held the same week Adam and I had moved into our new home, set on a large piece of land. When I got home that evening, I told Adam about my great day. I told him that I wanted to learn to grow our own food and that we had to plant a garden.

It didn’t take much convincing: Adam, recalling his childhood dreams of being a farmer, was on board.

In order to get our first garden into the ground last summer we hit the library, talked to some family and friends, and watched a lot of YouTube videos. The amount of information we found was pretty amazing.

But, as the garden grew, we wanted to learn more. We wanted to do more in taking charge of growing food, not just for ourselves, but maybe even for others.

I built relationships with extension office leaders and learned about some free work shops they were hosting to educate the community. In the fall of 2013, I went to a hands-on workshop about composting and an info session about community gardens.

Also, thanks to some of those relationships and my eagerness, I was able to attend a weeklong produce safety training hosted by the USDA. There I learned so much. We received information about how produce is inspected, what certifications, insurance, and handling practices are needed at a farm in order to supply food for sale, how to create urban and community gardens and more.

During the training I also went to an actual farm that is a resource for inner city schools in Baltimore. It introduces students to gardens, food that they might not see at home, raising goats and chickens and teaches them culinary skills. Two young men I met and spoke with were preparing to be the first in their families to graduate high school and hoping to serve in the military… as chefs!

I still have a lot to learn, but these experiences are tools that could potentially help Adam and I create a new business venture down the road. Maybe we will help contribute to a CSA, a Farm to School program, or have a stand at a Farmer’s Market. I have since moved on from K-12 food service and in my new role I work closely with chefs. Maybe we create a company that supplies fresh, local produce directly to chefs. But, then again, maybe I go back to that younger demographic and help them learn how to grow their own food. Who knows!?

And speaking of Adam, he is also learning a lot and making moves to help feed others. He made a connection with a longtime farmer who is now serving as his mentor. Last fall, Adam asked if he could donate his time helping with the harvest. He was looking to learn more about the challenges and realities his clients face. He continued to ask questions and learn as much as he could about working a field of corn.

A Shot Adam took farming last fall.

A Shot Adam took farming last fall.

Thanks to his persistence and excitement, he will be going 50-50 with this farmer on forty acres of land this year. He is beyond excited to get into the field to continue to learn, to play a small part feeding the world, and to fulfill his childhood dream of being a farmer when he grew up.

Adam even asked the farmer, “Why are you letting me farm with you?”

His response “I’ve never met someone who shows so much passion and excitement for farming. It’s hard to find someone willing to work for free just to be involved.”

I know that we wouldn’t have had these opportunities and knowledge if we had not spoken up.

I am a firm believer that what you get out of life, be it opportunities or information, that you can’t work your butt off for, is what you have the guts to ask for.

I would not know what I know about growing food or how others grow food if I had not asked questions and asked to get involved.

I am the girl asking questions at the market. I want to know.

In order to create a successful garden, I reached out to old pros and asked questions.

Adam did the same.

It’s really hard to get into actual farming if you are not born into it.

He was interested. He wanted to learn. So, he asked.

If you want to know about how the produce you see at your farmers market is grown, ask the farmer.

If the farmer at the edge of town raises cattle and you want to know how he treats his cows or who he sells the beef to, ask. You might be surprised. A lot of family farmers sell to corporations like Tyson.

(However, another fun question to ask is if you can buy directly from him. There is nothing better than making a relationship where you can support someone in your local community and get fresh meat for your family.)

A farmer will likely be more than happy to answer any question and help give you a better understanding of their world. They are proud of what they do and they want to clear up any misconceptions that, unfortunately, strike the agriculture industry every day.

If you want to know how to start a garden, do what I did. Reach out to your extension offices, ask questions at the local nursery, or you could even ask me.

I am by no means an expert, but I do have a year of experience under my belt and if I don’t know the answer, at this point, I probably know someone who does.

And, like the farmers, I am proud of what I have learned and accomplished. Not to mention, nothing makes me happier to know that someone is inspired by this blog and wants to start a garden.

… Isn’t it funny?

If you had told me ten years ago that this would be my life and this is what makes me feel like I have a purpose, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Chickens? Dirt? Muck Boots? Puhleease.

I might have even laughed.

But, I have picked up a bit of wisdom since sixteen. And, yes, I still have a lot to learn about life, but one thing I know to be sure is that life takes us all down many different roads.

And if there is anything on those roads that makes you truly fulfilled and alive, you should listen to it.

As a young adult, I honestly have struggled trying to determine what to be when I grow up. I didn’t know what really drove me or what I was passionate about.

Until now.

I love the evenings when I am in the garden with Adam enjoying the sunset and a glass of wine while the hens are roaming nearby.

I can’t help but smile when I have a fabulous conversation with a farmer at the market about the food they grew.

I feel like I have a purpose when a friend texts me saying she wants to grow cilantro, but doesn’t know where to begin.

My heart is so happy when I see Adam thrilled about making his childhood farming dreams come true.

And, never in my life do I feel more completely “Claire” than when I am in my kitchen preparing an amazing meal with fresh ingredients straight from my backyard.

Fresh ingredients that I planted, tended to, and picked with my own hands.

… So, maybe I am a Farm Girl after all.

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Go Garden: Starting Seeds

Last night, we started seventeen different seeds.

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Things that we will not be starting indoors are items like root vegetables such as carrots, beets and radishes. We saved some lettuces to sow right into the ground as well.

A good rule of thumb is that seeds should be started indoors about six to seven weeks before the last frost. The last chance of frost in my area is May 11 (…Here’s hoping!). So, I am right on track as it’s about six and half weeks out.

Starting seeds is relatively easy. And, garden companies make it even easier.

We use plastic seed starter flats that you can get at any grocery or home improvement store. Some have soil pellets in the containers when you purchase them. We used these last year and I didn’t have any issues or complaints. They were great. But, this year we added natural and organic seed starter soil to our starter flats.

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Once soil is in each container in the flat, be sure to water the soil thoroughly before planting. Make sure the soil isn’t too packed or becomes too wet.

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Seed companies have really made seeds easy to use. The back of the seed packets have all the basics like when to plant, how deep to plant a seed, if it can grow well in a container or if it needs to be transplanted into the ground and more.

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We planted about three to four seeds in each individual container. Once they germinate, we will thin the weaker plants. Sometimes seeds will not germinate, and having more seeds in each individual container will help ensure you get a healthy plant.

Once complete, put plastic lid on the kit and place it in a warm (65-75 degrees) area of your home away from direct sunlight. You do not want to use light until the seeds have germinated.

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Check your seeds daily. Make sure soil is moist, but not wet. You should see signs of germination in about 7 to 10 days. Then, you should move the seeds to a heated lamp or sunlight.

Two other little tips I have picked up from my second year of planting seed indoors:
– Make a “Cheat Sheet” to show were everything is. Even once the seedlings begin growing, it will be hard to tell what is what for a while.

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– Mark numbers on each side of the starter kit and mark them on your cheat sheet. The kit can get flipped around or backwards. You will want to know if that’s the side with tomatoes or not.

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Next time you see these babies there should be some GREEN!

Note: There are many, many other ways to begin seeds. Some people like to reuse recycled yogurt containers. Others, have natural wooden flats that they use year to year. Some make up their own starter soil with compost, worm casings, etc. Do what works best for you. I believe this is the most approachable start for the “Rookie/Novice Gardener.”

Go Garden: Getting Started

The major focus on Bloom in February was “Why Garden?”

We talked money, health, and reducing your impact on the earth and, if I did my job right, you are convinced.

Right…?!

If not, read the money one again.

Okay, all you Garden Believers… This month’s focus will be “Go Garden!”

This works really well because it’s just about time to get plans going for this summer’s garden and to get seeds started.

I like to start my seeds inside because it means I will have vegetables earlier and take full advantage of Indiana’s growing season.

Getting seeds started last spring.

Getting seeds started last spring.

Before you get seeds planted, it’s important to know your area’s last frost date.

For me, it is May 11. (Although, based on today’s snow and cold temps the critic in me says not to hold my breath…)

The USDA’s website has a great tool for finding your last frost date.

Most seeds are ready to transplant into the ground after about six weeks. So, I will be starting seeds indoors within the next few weeks and will be posting about the whole process.

If you want to get growing and follow along with me, here are a few things you should do before we get “dirt”-y!

1. Determine what you want to grow

First year veteran caveat: Start small.

Reasons? Too much too soon can be overwhelming. There’s weeding, pest control, watering, etc. needed for every plant. Not to mention, it can also mean you are swimming in produce before you know it and your good food could go to waste.

Holy Tomatoes.

Holy Tomatoes.

Note: A solution to too many garden veggies? After annoying your friends and family members to “Pleeeeease take some zucchini” and/or ding dong ditching your neighbors leaving behind baskets full of cucumbers (Hmm… just me??), take them to your local food pantry. We have a church down the street that serves our community and they love to have fresh veggies because they are not seen often.

Another thing to keep in mind, and it should be common sense but, only plant things you want eat. Even though Butternut Squash is becoming super trendy, but it will never grace my garden. (Okay, never say “never…”) But, for now… I just can’t. The texture. Bleh.

2. Plan a good spot for your garden

Our plants grow in the ground, but you could use containers on your deck or create raised beds. Whatever works with your situation, be it a yard or just a balcony.

Our garden in late May 2013.  Seeds had recently been transplanted into the ground.

Our garden in late May 2013. Seeds had recently been transplanted into the ground. Our garden faces west in order to receive plenty of sun.

Surprisingly, plants don’t need too much space.

But, they do need three key things in their designated location:

– At least six hours of sunlight a day. But, if you don’t have full sun in your yard don’t feel like a garden is a lost cause. Plants like leafy greens do great with shade.
Water… Unless you really want to work on your biceps and walk back and forth with a full watering can, make sure your hose can reach the garden beds. You can thank me later for that one.
– Good Soil (We will talk more about creating nutrient rich soil once it warms up a bit.)

3. Get materials needed for starting seeds

There are great seed starting kits that can be found at any home improvement or garden store. These kits make it super easy. There are directions right on the kits. Some even have “greenhouse” covers to help keep heat in, replicating the warmer, summer temperatures.

Seed packets can also be found at home and garden stores. I even saw them at the grocery store today.

Last year all our seeds were packaged by Burpee. I enjoyed them and they worked out great. Burpee is an excellent brand and you will be able to find their products easily. We will be growing many different Burpee seeds this spring.

However, there are lots of other seed companies out there. Adam and I are planning to try a couple different companies, such as Gurney’s. Their seeds come through the mail.

Many of the seed companies out there also have Certified Organic seeds, if that’s something you are interested in.

Also, Adam and I use Grow Lamps to provide artificial light and heat to plants in the beginning. I have a friend who puts her starter kits right by a window that gets a lot of light throughout the day. Her plants do great.

It’s up to you and how much you want to invest. You can find Grow Lights in many different sizes and levels of quality so their prices can range from $50-$500.

Our Grow Lamp, starter kits and spray bottle in 2013.  Label sheets are on the floor in front of the kits.

Our Grow Lamp, starter kits and spray bottle in 2013. Label sheets are on the floor in front of the kits.

Other small items to have ready to go before you get sow seeds:

Labels and a marker: I made ours last year with toothpicks and label stickers so that they looked like little flags.

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Spray bottle: These are super cheap and you can find them anywhere. Make sure they didn’t hold any cleaning chemicals before you use them to water your plants.
Watering Can
Potting soil

Alright snow… get out of here. We have garden’s to plant!

Why Garden Weekends: Money

Okay, so… I had full intentions of doing “Why Garden Wednesday’s” all through the month of February to inspire you to start a backyard/balcony/windowsill garden this spring.

But, Wednesday came and went without a blog. I had been on the road for work, we had a major snow storm (again…), and I just wanted to spend sometime with this cute kid.

Sleep dude.

Sleepy dude.

Can you blame me?

Instead, welcome to “Why Garden Weekends!”

Spring is coming, even though it sure doesn’t seem like it in the Midwest, and every weekend in February I will be posting reasons on why YOU should start a garden.

So, without further adieu, Numero Uno, a reason top of mind for everyone: Money.

Last fall, I wrote as I reflected on the summer’s garden that gardening has definitely saved Adam and me a little cash. Thanks to the garden, I do not buy as a much at the grocery store and we are far less likely to go out to eat than we had been in the past. This is because we had so much food of our own to eat!

I have been seeking out garden workshops around Indiana to try to gain more knowledge and skill. At a program last September, put on by Purdue Extension, I picked up a flyer illustrating the benefits of gardening and the numbers listed for dollars saved. It’s impressive!

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Home gardening gives you a 1:25 cost benefit.

This means, if you were to spend $50 on seeds you could produce over $1,200 of food.

Here’s a break down of a few items from our garden explaining what we pay and what we could be paying if we were to purchase them at a store.

Organic, Pasture raised Eggs:

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Store Price: $3.50 per dozen

The chicks were $1 each and its $11 for feed every month. We get around 11 dozen eggs a month from our five hens. So, our eggs are about a $1.00 a dozen.

Organic Tomatoes:

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Store Price: $3.00 per pound

One tomato plant can give you around fifteen pounds of tomatoes. You could buy a tomato plant for about $2.50. We started our tomatoes from seeds and were able to get twenty plants of various varieties about six bucks. So, a pound of our backyard tomatoes were a whopping two cents.

Organic Zucchini:

I thought this was a funny picture from last summer.  Zucc's the size of wine bottles!

I thought this was a funny picture from last summer. Zucc’s the size of wine bottles!

Store Price: $3.00 per Pound

A packet of zucchini seeds is about $2.00. You could get about 10-15 zucchini plants per packet. Zucchini plants are like weeds. They just keep coming! We would get one zucchini from each plant about every day last summer. A typical plant will give you around nine pounds of zucchini each season.

We had six zucchini plants last summer making a pound of our zucchini about four cents.

Organic Cucumbers:

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Store Price: $2.00 per pound

A packet of cucumber seeds is about $1 and could give you thirty plants. We planted four cucumber plants and got about three pounds of cucumbers per week per plant when we were harvesting, making well over thirty pounds of cucumber for the season. Our cucumbers were less than three cents a pound.

Organic carrots:

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Store Price: $3.00 per pound

You have to sow carrot seeds directly into the ground. A packet of seeds is about $2.00 and you could yield at least thirty pounds of carrots from one packet.

We plan to plant many more carrot seeds next year. The taste of a backyard carrot versus a carrot from a bag of baby carrots in the store is amazingly different. It has so much more depth of flavor and at six cents a pound, why not?

When I start to add in our entire garden’s lettuce, broccoli plans, snap peas, strawberries, herbs, peppers, and more the savings really start to add up.

Money savings is one of the big reasons I enjoy sharing our garden stories. There are so many people in America struggling to feed their families, let alone feed their families well. Gardens help make this possible. The knowledge just needs to be shared. There are many groups around the nation such as Farm to School and Extension offices working to inform people the benefits of gardening and teach the skills needed.

Community and Urban Gardens are popping up in cities everywhere. And, SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, participants can purchase seeds or plants from any SNAP retailer or Farmers Market. This is awesome because the participants can use the seeds to grow food that they normally couldn’t purchase… in large quantities, too!

Still not convinced a backyard garden is worth it? Tune is next weekend and we will talk about your health.

End of the Season and So Much More

Autumn became a little aggressive last couple weeks bringing blustery wind, biting cold, and even flurries. Yuck.

This made me very glad that Adam and I had taken advantage of the sunshine the weekend before last and cleaned up the garden for the end of the season.

We tore out the remaining plants and tilled up the garden beds. All the herbs were pulled from their pots and composted; after trimming pieces we could still use.

Cleaning up a garden at the end of the season helps to make planting easier in the spring. You want to wait until the first frost, so that plants don’t grow back after removing them and trimming them back.

After a day of putting the garden to bed, I looked out at the empty piece of land.

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It was hard to imagine that just a couple months ago that same spot was booming with life and vibrancy.

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This brought on a little reflection.

The garden has given Adam and I so much more than produce. It has helped us grow. Learn. Expand who we are as individuals and together.

I read something somewhere that you should take time each day for your mind, body and soul.

And that is exactly what we did- without even knowing it- through this summer’s garden.

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Mind

Outside of a pathetic attempt at green beans and a couple cherry tomato plants, Adam and I had never gardened before this summer. We learned so much.

We learned how things grow. How to take care of plants. The benefits of eating food from a backyard garden.

This learning made us want to know more.

We were open to new concepts. Tried new things. Created new recipes with our veggies.

We read. We researched. We attended conferences. We listened to old pros. We Googled and Youtubed.

As a strong, yet apathic student in my younger years, I don’t know if I have been so interested, engaged and excited about learning ever.

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Body

First? The injuries.

Two bee stings. A sliced thumb when making cucumbers. One very, very bad sunburn when I thought it would be a good idea to pull weeds in a bikini top. And an unfortunate canning incident where boiling water poured down my right hand, branding the outline of my claddagh ring to my finger.

Don’t worry… Adam happened to make it out unscathed.

Second: A lot of people ask if we were doing it for the health benefits.

And I would be lying if I said, “No.” And we did see them.

We weren’t doing 4,000 calorie burning Cross Fit workouts, but we were outside and moving.

We didn’t feel like we were on a diet, but we were eating more vegetables than we had in the past.

I didn’t lose any noticeable weight, but I also didn’t gain any.

However, one thing that is fatter is our wallets. Grocery lists were shorter than ever. We also used to eat out at least once a week, but since June, we have maybe been out to eat just a handful of times.

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Soul

Tonight, I told Adam I was writing this post and asked him what he would say the garden gave us. Without hesitation, he said, “It has changed who we are.”

I smiled, because I couldn’t agree more.

As an individual, I felt like I gained a stronger definition of myself.

Ten months ago I was a young woman who worked hard trying to develop her career and liked to be with her friends. You might have gotten “shopping” out of me if you asked about my hobbies.

Kind of superficial. Very on the surface. Pretty boring.

Now, not only do I love working hard, being with my friends, and shopping, but I can go so much deeper than that.

There is so much more that makes me… me.

I love to spend time in the garden, getting dirt under my nails. I giggle with I have a gaggle of hens following me around the yard. I get so excited create something delicious with the fresh food from the backyard and share it with my friends and family. I like to learn more about local food growers, sustainable and self-sufficient living. I seek out hyper local restaurants and opportunities to share this new found passion.

I looked at Adam, who clearly was thinking of nearly the same things I was, and said, “But you know what was so great about all of this? What was at the core of everything? We did it together.”

Adam lit up and nodded.

Hours were spent working alongside each other outside in the garden with no other distractions. We laughed remembering the chicks when they were clumsy, little fluff balls that could entertain us more than any episode of Big Bang Theory. And the evenings in early June spent in the garden together catching up and checking out the changes in the growing plants with a glass of wine are memories that we both will carry with us for the rest of our lives.

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I don’t think we needed it, but the garden did make us closer. It made us stronger. It made us better.

And we both cannot wait to see what next year will bring.

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Keeping Vampires Away

Happy Halloween!

This Halloween is the first Holiday that I really put up decorations since Adam and I got married two and a half years ago. We were in the process of building our home and lot of things were in boxes, not just decorations. It always seemed like too much energy to sort through everything and put them up in a place that was always temporary.

It’s fun to get a little festive.

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… haha, ignore the fact that I am still in the market for some new knobs.

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Something we also did recently that fits in with Halloween festivities, thanks to some old folklore, was plant garlic.

Let me rephrase that, we planted one hundred cloves of garlic.

Anyone we tell this to responds with something along the lines of, “Good God. Are you guys trying to keep vampires away?!”

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Well, fortunately, we have not been too concerned about the threat of vampires. (… Phew!) But, it still made me curious to see where this connection between vampires and garlic was made.

Turns out it goes back far in history, but was made popular by the novel “Dracula” in the late 1800s when characters wore garlic around their necks to protect themselves from vampires.

The theory was used in real life as well and was based on the idea that vampires are symbolic of mosquitoes. Mosquitoes suck blood and spread diseases. One of the common diseases spread by mosquitoes is Malaria. Victims of malaria appear to be drained and suffer from anemia, much like eerie Dracula stories describe victims of vampire bites.

Garlic is often associated with longevity, good health and also happens to be a mosquito repellent!

This is why garlic would be worn, hung, or rubbed on doors, windows, chimneys, and keyholes… People felt as though they needed to repel vampires.

Like I mentioned, vampires have not been too much of a concern, but it could be because I cook with garlic nearly every evening.

Okay, so maybe it’s not the best thing to have on a first date, but it is so versatile. Garlic goes well in almost any dish. Asian. Mexican. Italian. You name it. Not to mention, Adam and I think it is delish.

I love this quote about garlic.

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SO TRUE.

Thanks to our passion for garlic (… and five years together, making garlic breath a non-issue) we decided to plant the hard-neck garlic variety in the backyard. Hard-neck garlic grows best in cooler climates and it is also what I am most familiar cooking with.

When planting garlic, you want to plant in the fall so that the roots can develop before the winter. Plant only the large, plump cloves. The small inner gloves will likely not develop correctly.

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Make sure your garlic bed will receive good sun and water.

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Create three inch deep holes spaced eight inches apart and place the flat end of the clove down, pointy tip up, in the hole.

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Cover the cloves with two inches of loose soil then about four inches of straw. The straw will help prevent damage from frost and cold weather to your growing bulbs. The straw will be pulled away in the spring.

In the spring, we will also thin the garlic and pull out every other when they begin to look like scallions. The bulbs will likely be harvested in late summer.

So, yes, it sounds crazy to plant one hundred cloves, but we will likely only get fifty bulbs. Which I am pretty confident we will be able to use.

And, if not?

We will use them to keep the vampires (and pesky mosquitoes) away.

Post done...!  Time to go hang with some "Party Bones."

Post done…! Time to go hang with some “Party Bones.”

It’s 95 Degree’s Out and I am Freezing…

For the last week or so we have had HUGE takes from the garden every day. While this is exciting, it’s also a tad overwhelming. I finally had the feeling of, “Oh, geez… How are we ever going to eat all this food?”

The baby shower was great timing last weekend because I was able to use plenty of produce from the garden. I made a big salad with the mixed greens and just had different toppings and dressings so people could make it their own. I also prepared this great cucumber salad we have already made multiple times this summer. It’s really simple to make and only requires a few ingredients. That’s always a win for me.

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Recipe: http://www.takingonmagazines.com/cucumber-salad-from-all-you/

Another recipe that we made for the party is also a go to in the summer is this sautéed zucchini side dish. We have been making this recipe for two years now; I pretty much know it by heart. The flavors go together so well and compliment any meal.

… Sorry no awesome iPhone picture. But, there is one at this link to the recipe: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Garden-Zucchini—Corn-Saute

Thanks to the bounty of produce accumulating on my counter top, I decided it was time to do some freezing. Freezing is a great way to preserve fruits and vegetables and is much simpler than canning. Frozen veggies are good for about twelve months.

Or, so I read.

I, of course, had never done this before, but it really didn’t seem too bad.

I started with snap beans because ours were towering and full of peas. I have been picking them for about two weeks. They make great additions to salads and even serve as a great snack with some hummus or without. The flavor of these peas has been incredible.

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After work I spent about thirty minutes picking as many of the larger beans that I could find (…in the massive heat wave that is hitting the Midwest currently) I headed in to get to work in the kitchen.

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I cleaned and snipped the end of the beans with a knife.

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Next, I got everything set up to blanch the beans.

Blanching is when you heat up veggies and then quickly cool them to lock in flavor and nutrients. I actually had not blanched anything since lab courses in college, but it is, fortunately, really easy.

I set a pot on the stove top to bring to a boil, a big bowl full of ice and cold water, and a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. The beans were put in boiling water for two minutes. I then lifted them with a large straining spoon and dunked them into the ice water.

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The instant they hit the water they turned a bight, beautiful green, just like I remembered would happen from that early morning lab. The beans were in the ice water for two minutes as well. I then strained them out and placed them on the cookie sheets. The paper towels quickly absorbed their moisture.

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I repeated the process until my many snap beans were blanched and drying on the cookie sheets. I took another paper towel and pressed it on top of them to pick up any remaining water.

Next, you can put them directly into a ziplock bag to freeze or you can freeze them on the cookie sheets, then put them in ziplock bags after they had frozen. I choose the put them in the freezer on cookie sheets because it will prevent the beans from freezing stuck together.

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I am so looking forward to using a handful of these summer beans throughout the winter in side dishes or stir fry’s.

Next, it was onto the zucchini. I thought I was in the clear with zucchini after the shower. I had sliced the nine zucchini’s I had in my kitchen to serve the crowd. After all that I was certain I wouldn’t have to worry about zucchini for little while.

Silly me…

Today- two days later- there were already six on my counter top.

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You can blanch sliced or diced zucchini and it is great for stews and casseroles, but my poor little refrigerator ice maker needed to play catch up after the ice bath for all the snap beans. Maybe some other day.

Instead, I grated two zucchini’s and portioned them into ½ cup servings.

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I wrapped each portion in saran wrap, put them into a zip lock bag, and placed them in the freezer. (Helpful Tip: Be sure to date and label whatever you freeze. This will help you out nine months from now when you cannot remember what you did today!)

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This grated zucchini will be great for all sorts of baked goods, like zucchini cakes or muffins. I put them in half cup portions to make it easy to add to any batter. I was able to get eight cups out of two zucchini’s.

All in all, not bad and it really didn’t take too long. Now I can combat that feeling of panic that we will never be able to eat everything by knowing we will be eating from this garden all year long.

I already cannot wait to use these frozen items on a day in December, when I am feeling frozen myself, and remember how HOT it was today.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: The Untold Story.

Eric Carle’s “A Very Hungry Caterpillar” was a staple of my childhood. I loved the colorful illustrations and the little holes in the food items that the cute little, green caterpillar ate… but was still hungry.

Well, now that I am older, I know there are always two sides to every story.

And now that I am a gardener, I know that caterpillar was a pain in the ass.

About ten days ago, I noticed that my broccoli leaves had multiple holes in them and were not looking so great.

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I showed the damage to Adam and he noticed tiny, green caterpillars on the leaves. They were so small and nearly the same color green as the leaf so it’s no wonder I missed them at my first glance.

Little Hungry Loopers.

Little Hungry Loopers.

We went inside to determine what they heck was going on. Adam looked up from Google and said, “They are cabbage loopers.”

“Okay, what do they do?” I asked.

“Eat the shit out of your plants,” he bluntly stated as his wide eyes scrolled image after image of damage these little buggers created.

And they did.

umm... YIKES.

umm… YIKES.

The following morning it was ten times worse so I knew something needed to be done. I talked to a couple neighbors and they both (very ominously…) said, “Ohh. You going to need to get some Sevin.”

I looked up Sevin online-which I learned is not spelled like the number- and found plenty of information that made me realize this was not the product I wanted to use.

Directions for application instructed one to wear long sleeves, eye protection and a face mask to prevent breathing in the chemical. It also said to ensure that pets would not come in contact with the plants.

… And I was going to put this on something I was planning on eating? I don’t think so.

(I also read that it kills bees. I like bees. Bees are important… more on that later.)

So then I used searches like “eco-friendly” or “organic” removal/control of loopers.

A site said just to remove the loopers from the leaves and step on them.

Well… this worked for about, oh… let’s see… ten minutes. They blend in with the big green broccoli leaves so well it was like your eyes would play tricks on you. There were tons. Not to mention, it was hot. And the wormies were nasty. This method made Sevin sound pretty good.

Trying to pick off the loopers.  Hard, boring, hot work.

Trying to pick off the loopers. Hard, boring, hot work.

So, back to the search engines. The chemical Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (BTK) was recommended and used by many organic gardeners. Even with the use of BTK the produce is still considered organic.

I had to hunt a bit for this chemical, but finally found it at a home improvement store. It was made by a company called Garden Safe and was even labeled for Organic Gardening. Less than ten bucks later I was on my way home and the looper’s days were numbered.

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The chemical was in concentrate form so I combined with water in a spray bottle. I spritz the solution on to the leaves and their undersides.

That was ten days ago and we have not seen a looper since.

So, in the end of this bedtime story, the very hungry caterpillar died. But, the very savvy gardener was able to pull three great looking broccoli heads from her garden this evening.