Sunday, January 30, 2011

Massive Egg

I went to the farmers market last week as I always do and bought some eggs from my favorite farmer.  When I got home and opened up the dozen I was greeted by the largest egg I have ever seen in my life.  We have commented many times how the eggs we buy from him are often larger than ones you get at the store.  This however was a monster compared to the other eggs.  It filled the entire palm of my hand and was taller, wider and deeper than all the other eggs.  You can see below how it was as big as a post-it and how it makes a normal egg look tiny.  Andy and I joked we were going to find a premature chick inside and when I cracked it open there were two yolks!  Mark this one for the record books.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Winter Cooking

With all the snow I have been hunkering down inside and doing plenty of cooking. Over the weekend I made two types of bean soup.  The first soup was a white bean and rosemary soup made with cannellini beans, and sadly the last of our rosemary which has succumbed to the cold.  The second was a basic bean soup using navy beans, black eyed peas, and a left over ham bone I froze after Christmas. 

I also roasted another chicken since we liked the first one so much.  This time I followed the same recipe but added a technique I have used with cornish hens to mince garlic and herbs and stuff the mixture in between the skin and meat.  By putting the herbs under the skin it helps them to permeate into the meat without burning which would happen if the herbs were placed on top of the skin.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Newly fallen snow is beautiful when it catches the light properly.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


We had about six inches of snow this week.  One of my favorite parts of snow is how it coats branches and all horizontal surfaces.  Even on the rosemary in the garden.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Snow Days

The past two days have been snow days here in Cincinnati.  The days off allowed me to get caught up on a few things.  One being roasting this squash that has been sitting on my counter since November.  My Dad gave it to me back then and I have no idea what kind of squash it is.  After roasting it doesn't hold its shape well but it tastes wonderful mashed or as soup.  After roasting I packaged it up and froze it so that later this winter I can pull it out as a quick start to a meal.  I also had some time to roast up some of our saved butternut squash to go with the pot roast that had been cooking all day.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Crop Rotation

As I work on planning the garden one aspect is picking what kind and varieties of each plant will we grow, the other aspect is placement.  A big factor in placement is to consider what was grown there last year.  Crop rotation makes sure that plants of the same family are not planted in the same spot year after year.  Some plant diseases and pests live in the soil, if planted in the same spot year after year the same issues will ensue each year.  By switching around plant families which have different diseases and pests you will help to increase the likelihood of healthy plants.

I have heard all sorts of ideas about crop rotation.  One theory is that you should be on a five year rotation or some say a seven year rotation.  Maybe a farm has room for a seven year rotation but I am going to be happy if I can figure out a good three year rotation.  Last year it was easy to flip flop the placement of the plants.  This year is going to be a bit trickier in terms of planning.  I don't want to flip flop the plants back to their placement two years ago, luckily with the possibility of creating more beds that will solve the rotation issue.

Some people just figure it out year to year how they will rotate their plants.  However others have a real science to it.  This Fall I read about the Bio-Dynamic Method of crop rotation which has a four season rotation.  Their rotation is based on five main plant families, here is what they say:

Season 1 - Grow solonaceae (potatoes and tomatoes) which are nutrient hogs.
               - In the Fall replace them with brassicaceae (cabbages, broccoli, cauliflower) which will take away the food source for solonaceae fungal issues and pests.

Season 2 - Follow with apiaceae (root veggies).

Season 3 - Plant leguminosae (legumes, peas, beans) which replenish nitrogen levels in the soil.

Season 4 - In the last year plant asteraceae (lettuce and salad crops) which can grow well in depleted soil and will do well with the nitrogen left behind by the legumes.

Then when season 4 is over apply compost, manure or other amendments and start the rotation over.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

On Sunday evening I  finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.  I was interested in reading this book because it is about popular writer Barbara Kingsolver and her family's challenge to live only on food produced locally for an entire year.  This is a dense book because it includes so many thoughtful pieces that challenges the way we think about our food and food system.  Included are recipes using seasonable foods and factual tidbits about laws, court cases and the realities of our food system.  Despite being dense it was still enjoyable to read and included many light hearted pieces that had me laughing.  I learned many new things, had some thoughts confirmed or challenged, and just enjoyed in the vignettes that told about the ups and downs on her farm.  This is a book that I highly suggest to those who have already begun or are contemplating making changes to eat more locally or sustainably.

Here is an excerpt from the book and some of Barbara's intelligent sarcasm to purposefully provoke thought and conversation about our food system.
     "How did supermarket vegetables loose their palatibility, with so many  people right there watching?  The Case of the Murdered Flavor was a contract killing, as it turns out, and long distance travel lies at the heart of the plot.  The odd notion of transporting fragile produce dates back to the early 20th century when a few entrepreneurs tried shipping lettuce and artichokes, iced down in boxcars, from California eastward over the mountains as a midwinter novelty.  Some wealthy folks were charmed by the idea of serving out-of-season (and absurdly expensive) produce items to their dinner guests.  It remained little more than an expensive party trick until mid-century, when most fruits and vegetables consumed in North America were still being produced on nearby farms.
     Then fashion and marketing got involved.  The interstate highway system became a heavily subsidized national priority, long-haul trucks were equipped with refrigeration, and the cost of gasoline was nominal.  The state of California aggressively marketed itself as an off season food producer, and the American middle class opened its maw.  In just a few decades the out-of-season vegetable moved from novelty status to such an ordinary item, most North Americans now don't know what out-of-season means."

Monday, January 17, 2011

Roasted Chicken

This Sunday I successfully roasted a whole chicken!  I tried over the Summer roasting a chicken never having roasted a whole one before and thought I could just wing it.  The chicken ended up just fine but I knew the next time I would need a recipe to teach me the proper way to roast one up.  This month's Martha Stewart had multiple recipes.  I had a whole chicken in the chest freezer from our favorite farmer and I thought I would give one of the recipes a try.  I choose the crispy skin chicken with rosemary and potatoes.  Luckily the rosemary in the garden is still holding out since we needed a good amount for underneath and inside the chicken.  It was delicious!

Ready for the oven


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bees Allowed

Good News!  Our city allows bees.  Or I should put it they do not restrict bees.  And because they don't restrict bees you can have bees.  We went through all the zoning laws, had friends look at the zoning laws and couldn't find a thing.  But we were still worried and didn't want to have to hide the bees in constant fear of getting caught.  So we called the city to find out and they said YES!  I then asked what if a neighbor complains will we be asked to remove it by the city.  Their response was that the conflict would stay between neighbors.  We don't plan on upsetting our neighbors in fact we plan on them never finding out but wanted the answer for our worst case scenario.

Now we have to decide if this is the best year for us to introduce bees.  I really really want the hive of bees but I'm scared to bite off more than I can handle.  We have plans to extend the garden again and possibly add a cold frame.  I have to make the decision soon, so we will see.

This is the hive that really started it all for me.  When Andy and I went on the Pleasant Ridge Garden walk one of the properties had this hive and one other.  They couldn't speak more highly of having bees and the benefits their garden had seen with the introduction of the bees.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Gardens Under Snow

One of the schools I work at has a garden for each classroom.  In the Fall and in the Spring each class has garden time where they take trail walks, collect seeds, establish and care for plants in raised beds.  As a gardener I love that garden time is incorporated at school.  But right now in the midst of winter the gardens are resting under the snow.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pleasant Ridge Garden Walk

Last summer Andy and I went on a garden walk in a nearby neighborhood.  Looking at these pictures it seems like a lifetime away compared to the snow covered ground we have now.  Finally  here are some of the highlights of that day.

This was my favorite all over garden.  Their backyard was a series of terraces.  The top two terraces had gravel and the bottom grass.  Each terrace was lushly landscaped and just all over gorgeous!

 This potting center was my favorite garden feature from any of the gardens.  Adjacent to the cottage like shed was this old wooden repurposed counter.  A kitchen sink was inserted into the counter.  Instead of using gravel, stones, pebbles, mulch or other material in front of the potting center old broken terracotta pots were used.  I thought this was a great way to reuse those classic pots once they crack or break.  The old windows of the shed were switched out with mirrors that reflect the plants making the area seem larger and decorated with window boxes.

 This back terrace had a gorgeous pergola draped in a vining plant and it seemed very tropical spa like.

 The front of this house was one of Andy's favorites, he loves fences with arbors in the front yard as an entry way to the yard.

 I liked the idea of hanging candelabras from an over hanging branch for evening light in the garden.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Counter Cleaner

I am a generally clean person, I like the house to always be picked up and clean.  But I like my kitchen to be eat of the floor clean.  I have used all sort of conventional cleaners in the kitchen to achieve this.  Then this year it hit me: If I am trying to get rid of chemicals in the production of my food why would I want to then cook them on surfaces with chemicals on them?  So I have tested out a few different varieties of homemade cleaners.  This one so far has been the best. 

I did use up my conventional cleaner first since putting it into a landfill isn't very green.  Then I cleaned the bottle well and have repurposed it for the homemade version.  I have been very pleased using a homemade version.  You have to retrain your nose a bit since it doesn't smell artificially clean like most cleaners.  But I rest easy knowing that when I roll out pie dough on the counter it isn't picking up anything I wouldn't be willing to put in my body.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Winter Surprise

I started cilantro this Fall but it was so hot that the cilantro barely got going.  In my experiments with season extenders and row cover this Fall I covered the bed of cilantro and radish when I covered the lettuces and herbs.  With all the snow we had the lettuce did not survive under the row cover.  I assumed the cilantro and radishes had the same fate. 

All the snow recently melted and I was finally able to remove the row cover from the expired lettuce, herbs, cilantro and radishes.  The herbs fared well but I was surprised to find my cilantro has flourished.  It looks vibrantly green and has continued to grow.  I have covered them back up in hopes that the row cover will continue to protect them.  I can't tell you how ecstatic I will be if I get to have guacamole made with fresh from the garden cilantro during the Superbowl this year.

The radish leaves look a bit burned by the cold but the actual radishes look fine.  I will leave these in the ground for now since they haven't started to rot but have plateaued in their growth and aren't yet large enough.  Maybe we will have very very early Spring radishes.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2010 Successes and Failures

Before I plan the garden I need to reflect on the successes and failures of my garden last year so that I can make some changes to have a more productive garden this year.

Let's start the failures:
Aristocrat Zucchini - I had tons of blossoms and absolutely no zucchini.  I don't know if it needed more sun, a lack of pollination, or death due to powdery mildew.  But this was a complete fail.

Red Beauty Bell Pepper - This was not a beauty at all.  Last year I had mild success with peppers.  This year I only planted one and it failed miserably.  It only grew a few inches and had a sad attempt to grow two tiny peppers that never ripened.  Peppers are sun hogs and while my plot gets good sun it just doesn't get enough for peppers.

Early Girl Tomato - This girl was not early, in fact she never showed up to the party.  I had a huge towering plant, plenty of blossoms and zero tomatoes.  I have no clue what the problem was.  It was planted amidst plenty of other productive tomato plants.

Amethyst Basil - I always grow the Genovese varieties of basil but this year I thought maybe it would be fun to have a basil that would add a different color dimension to our food.  All I have to say is bleh about this plant.  Many of the leaves didn't completely turn purple and were splotched with green.  Also the flavor was bitter and just horrible.  I will never grow this again.

Now for the Successes!  Not all were superstars but much better than the above complete failures.
Pineapple Tomato(heirloom) - This tomato is a huge beauty and I got a half dozen of them.  Because the tomatoes are so large they take a good amount of time to fully grow and ripen.  Due to this many critters were able to get to them before me.  Unfortunately in an attempt to rotate crops in my plot this plant ended up in the shade by 3-4pm and I think that it might be more productive in all day sun.  The tomatoes had a gorgeous yellow and red pattern with wonderful flavor!

Golden Boy Tomato - This tomato is a wonderful yellow vibrant color and produces plenty of fruits.  Again I lost plenty to the squirrels and the afternoon shade was a bit of a problem but otherwise it had great production.

Mr. Stripey Tomato(heirloom) - This was a tomato I bought because as the name indicates the tomatoes are supposed to be a multitude of stripey colors.  However mine all turned out orange.  This tomato had the best sun and did well.  The vine was extremely dense and curled in on itself which made it hard to find the tomatoes.  Overall a good plant with the exception that it didn't look like it was advertised to.

Sweet 100 Cherry Tomato -  This plant had the same light as the Pineapple Tomato but still was prolific.  We had plenty of cherry tomatoes all Summer and many were eaten right in the garden.  They have great flavor and I love how quickly they grow and ripen so that you can enjoy some tomatoes while you are waiting for the big boys to ripen. 

Yellow Plum Cherry Tomato - This plant was a prolific bearer also plenty of small tomatoes constantly growing and ripening.  I bought this one for it's fun color and shape.  Their shape ended up more orb like and less pear shaped.  The flavor was good but nothing to write home about.  I wasn't disappointed with this plant but just not sure if it will make it back into the garden.

Supersett Yellowneck Squash - This squash unfortunately was also plagued by powdery mildew.  However I did get a half dozen or so squash from this plant before it finally succumbed to the mildew.  I was happy with it otherwise.

Classic Eggplant - We really enjoyed this plant.  The eggplants take a bit of time to fully grow but we were happy anyways.  We had plenty of eggplant for two people and weren't overwhelmed with trying to get rid of extra.

Red and Yellow Onions - These did ok overall.  The tops fell a bit early and they didn't get to grow as long as they should have and ended up on the small side.  I have already used up all the yellow and have a few red that I will breeze through by Spring.  But for the first attempt at onions I would say it wasn't bad.

Garlic - I grew a soft neck variety and again they were on the smaller side but we have plenty of garlic for the rest of the year.  I plan to continue experimenting with growing different varieties.

Carrots -  I didn't save the tag but I grew a medium sized variety.  They also did ok. Some were tiny, some huge.  I don't really have the timing correct on when to thin, how much to thin out and when to know they are ready.  I just can't decide if the effort is worth the payoff.

Lettuce Varieties - We grew many different varieties of lettuce.  All of the Spring lettuce did amazing and we ate it all season until it got too hot and bolted.  My Fall lettuce was a bit of a flop.  It was too hot to get them going before the days got shorter and then once they were in full swing we had hard frost and snow which ended them.  I will later have to post about which varieties did better than others.

Gold Lemon Thyme - This was a second new herb I tried.  The thyme wasn't as golden as the picture indicated but it had a wonderful zippy lemon flavor and grew well.  I didn't use much of this herb but really enjoyed it when I did.

Radish - I planted a long breakfast variety in the Fall.  They are quick growers and ego boosters to any gardener.

Cilantro - I also tried this in the Fall but it was just too hot for it to really get going and harvest any.
We also grew other classic herbs such as french thyme, rosemary, sage, chives, genovese basil which all did really well.

The big take away lessons here are that some of my plants do really well in this plot and a few might benefit from more sun.  I also think we might have a pollination issue, the main reason why I want to get a hive and bees.  As I continue to expand the garden it was a great year for learning and production!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 Garden Planning Begins

Some of my seed catalogs have come in.  I couldn't order a few 2011 catalogs until just recently and are waiting for them to arrive.  What are your favorite catalogs?  I won't order too many seeds because any seeds I plant have to be able to grow directly from the ground outside.  The ground won't be workable for a couple of months and in the next month or so is when many seeds need to get a head start.  I don't have a proper indoor light for seed starting, it is on my wish list so that I can soon grow more than what I can get at garden centers.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Holiday Review In Pictures

Work Parties

Celebrations with My Family
 Notice Reagan with bright pink boots made by my sister!

Yahtzee on Christmas Day!

Michigan with Andy's Family

Racing Uncle Andy!

We had a wonderful holiday season and hope you did too!

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I hope everyone had a safe and happy New Years!  We were lucky enough to spend time with friends and had a very relaxing New Years Day with family.  We are definitely looking forward to a fun and productive year!