Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Queen of the Sun

Recently Andy and I went to go see the documentary Queen of the Sun.  We heard it was a movie about the importance of bees and being new beekeepers we had to see it.  The movie was wonderful!  I already knew many of the issues but it was good to hear other people's perspectives and opinions. 

My convictions about going chemical free and our over use of these products continues to ruin our food system.  The current methods of growing food have put bees in jeopardy.  Many people don't realize how essential bees are to our environment.  Honestly I didn't either until about 9 months ago.  When I left the movie I felt a sense of pride of being a chemical free beekeeper.  I hope that this documentary is able to reach a large audience.

Here's the trailer to the movie.  I hope you enjoy the crazy French man as much as we did, he definitely provided comedic relief.

Monday, May 30, 2011

First Harvest!

I have finally had my first harvest!  It isn't much and the radishes are small, but it's something.  I would have prefered to leave them in the ground to grow more but their shoulders were starting to poke out of the ground.  The choice was either to pick them or risk losing them to some other critter.

Friday, May 27, 2011


Peonies in our area are in full bloom!  They are my favorite and I can never get enough.  Our peonies this year are doing well.  An older peony plant that we transplanted last year bloomed this year,which was exciting.  The new roots I planted a year ago are growing well but will take a couple more years before they bloom.

We have a house that has been vacant on our street for over a year.  They have beautiful peonies and since no one is living there I figured no one would mind if I cut a few for myself.  The magenta color is gorgeous!

Last year I saw a method on how to keep peonies buds fresh so that you can have peonies later in the year.  I am wrapping the buds in a newspaper and securing them with a rubber band.  They will be stored on their side in the fridge and I plan on taking them out 1 or 2 at a time to enjoy peonies over the Summer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Stalled Lettuce

In January and February as I was planning the garden I was dreaming of all the fresh from the garden salads we were going to have this year.  Last year the letucce was one of the easiest plants and I planned on planting at least 3x as much this year for lunches and dinners. 

I sowed all of the Spring lettuce seeds on April 12th  and below is how well they are doing today after 43 days of growing.  It is still going to be awhile before we get to harvest anything.  I did get my lettuce in later this year due to the excessive wet weather.  But we should by now have been harvesting lettuce.  I am blamming the stunted growth on the lack of Sun we have been having.  But maybe last year I just had beginners luck with our bountiful lettuce.  Over the weekend I went ahead and sowed our heat tolerant varieties for the Summer, maybe I will get some salads yet.

The lettuce is still small.

Most of the spinach seedlings have died off.  The plant in the bottom right is the only one doing ok.  All of the other rows of lettuce heads are still tiny.

Some of the leaves have purple spotting (as you can see in the middle).  I have no idea what that means but I know it's not normal.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Aerial View

I like the aerial pictures of other gardens I see, it helps to give a better idea of someone's garden layout.  It's hard to show how our garden is actually laid out from the ground, hopefully the progression of pictures helps.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


This year I am growing broccoli for the first time.  I bought transplants at the nursery center and planted them out back on April 6th.  As of today they are quite an interesting bunch.  They haven't grown much because of our gloomy weather.  The growth they have had is varied.  The one on the farthest right seems to be doing the best but they all are different sizes.  In the middle two have almost not grown at all.  I didn't do anything to protect them from pests this year because I wanted to see how they would fare on their own.  At this point I am not sure if or when we will end up with broccoli.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Signs of Stress

Over the weekend we finally had three straight days of sunshine and no rain!  Our plants are definitely showing signs of stress due to all the wet, cool, gloomy weather we have been having.  We are forecasted for more rain this week unfortuneatly.  Last Summer we were praying for more rain this Spring I am praying it goes away, funny how things change within a few months.

The tomatoes and the squash all have yellowing leaves and some spots.  Based on different articles and what I have seen other people do this year I decided to try the method of spraying tomato foilage with a diluted fish emulsion mixture to help ward off fungal issues and plant diseases.  I went ahead and gave them their first spray down this weekend in hopes it will help them recover.

Spotted and yellowing tomatoes
Struggling nasturtium and squash

Friday, May 20, 2011

Who's Been Digging in My Garden?

The big question and mystery for me has been who or what has been digging in my garden.  About once or twice a week I walk outside to find freshly dug holes in the garden.  This wasn't a problem last year and I can't figure out why it is this year.  The holes are only in the old garden.  It has dug up my newly planted parsnip bed once after the seeds were sown and once as the seedlings have been coming in, which definitely will affect my yields.  The only other casualty was a marigold.  Even though they have for the most part spared my plants it's still frustrating and annoying.

These are just some of the holes that have been dug.  They don't look like that big of a deal in the photos but I find it really frustrating.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Springing Up

Its crazy how big the beans were when they came up.  Last week I noticed that the beans were about to break through the soil and was excited that they were actually germinating despite our soggy, cool weather.  But I didn't expect that when they finally broke through it would be instant plants.  Most of the other plants in the garden start with two tiny leaves that are just these green little specks that grow over time.  The beans however had true leaves from the get go.  It's always fun and exciting to have new growth especially with plants you've never tried before.

One day it looked like the picture on the left and within 2 days we had what you see on the right.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Taking Notes

Over the past year I have been taking notes about when and what was planted, the weather, the progress of plants and such.  It has been really helpful to look back and see what I did last year.  I know it will be a fabulous resource in future years to have records of what is "normal" in my garden and to reflect on successes and failures.  However my notes have been in an old inexpensive small legal pad.  The pages are starting to curl and have been beaten up as I carry it in my purse, tote it outside and throw it into random places. 

I decided it was time to move up in the world and get something that would hold my notes and keep them in good condition.  This is what I ended up with, a leather bound journal with an elastic that will hold it together to keep the pages safe.  There is plenty of room for writing and it will contain at least a decade worth of notes if not more.  But the part I really liked was the accordion style folder in the back cover to hold plant tags, leaves, petals and other materials that I collect for saving.  I'm such a nerd but I love picking these things out and it has made me excited to take even more notes. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Window Box

I enjoy all aspects of gardening but most often only post about our vegetable garden.  When we bought our house we got an especially large 56" wrought iron window box.  I change out the plants seasonally and enjoy keeping our house looking nice.  The coco liner finally needed replacing as there were plenty of holes that no longer could be patched.  We searched for a presized liner but stores just don't keep our size in stock.  When we went to purchase the bulk buy by the foot liner they told us to bring in the window box in and they would properly fit it. 

So we took it down, dumped the contents out, and hauled it in to have them tell me this is what they considered properly fitting the window box.  At this point they were ready to trim off the extra on the top.  However for me this was not going to work and I had to politely let them know that I would be happy to take it home and finish the job.  I am a perfectionist, it's a pitfall of mine but so be it.  Those corners were just not going to cut it especially considering this is a focal point on the front of our house.  They told me the corners needed to be bunched up to hold the soil in properly.  However with an extra fifteen minutes, folding and a bit of trimming I was able to get the liner to look just right.
This is what I ended up with.  The liner is doubled up and the soil is definitely not going to leak through.  I love putting the new flowers in but I always love it more about 2 weeks later when the flowers fill in and begin spilling over the edges!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Orange Blossom Honey with Comb

I thought I posted this a couple of days ago but when I got on today it was still in my drafts so here we go again, attempt #2:

Since we have begun beekeeping Andy and I decided that we should try different types of honey.  Different types of honey are produced when bees are placed in an area with only one type of plant and thus only get to forage one type of blossom.  Because the honey is made up of nectar from only one plant the honey has a flavor specific to that plant.

Our first honey taste test was orange blossom honey with cut comb.  The cut comb has always been intriguing to us and we decided go for it.  The honey was wonderful and had a sweetness different that that of clover honey you get at the grocery store.  However if I had not know that it was from orange blossoms I wouldn't have been able to pinpoint the exact flavor.  The cut comb is pretty in the jar but not all that exciting in the mouth.  Once all the honey is gone you essentially are just chewing on a ball of wax.  We're glad we finally had the experience but most likely will never buy honey with cut comb again. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


This is the newest, most exciting form of entertainment in our household.  Watching the bees!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Last year I refused  to plant asparagus because I didn't want to give up any portion of the garden to something that couldn't be moved or I couldn't change my mind about.  But this year I realized we like asparagus too much not to have it in our garden.  We even designated 1/6th of the garden expansion just to asparagus.

I planted the asparagus almost a month ago.  All hope had pretty much been given up that it would grow in, with all the rain we have had I even thought maybe the roots had rotted.  One day leaving the house out of the corner of my eye I noticed a skinny looking stick poking out of the ground.  I was on my way to work and late as it was so I didn't have time to inspect.  When I got home I completely forgot about it until a day later when I went out to monitor the garden.  As I was out there I found out it was true, the asparagus started to grow in.  Since then I have spent at least five minutes a day staring at the asparagus patch watching the new growth and wondering when the others will finally come in.  Only about half of the crowns have come in but I haven't given up hope on the other half just yet.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Herb Harvest

Nothing other than herbs is being harvested right now from the garden.  Everything is growing but nothing else is ready for consumption.  Fresh herbs are often the base for wonderful dishes and I am always thrilled to have them at my disposal most of the year.  These are going into a pasta dish with ricotta cheese and extra chicken I grilled yesterday when making the Mother's Day salads.

Chives, Thyme and Lemon Thyme

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day!  We had a wonderful day visiting with both Moms.  In the evening we hosted my Mom for dinner and in the end I decided to go with something simple because it was more about spending time together than all the frills.  So I just made grilled chicken Caesar salads.  The big difference was that everything from the salad dressing to the croutons was fresh and homemade.  For dessert we also had brownies that I made from scratch after seeing how delicious the one's Lucy made were.  This was my first attempt at brownies from scratch and they were rich, fudgy and delicious!

I make most of our own salad dressings at home.  Most are vinaigrettes and almost impossible to mess up if you know the base of having an acid and oil to counterbalance each other and then adding in other flavors.  You add a little of this, a little of that, taste it and then decide if you need to adjust it in anyway.  I have not however attempted to make a Caesar dressing.  Caesar salad dressing has a very specific taste, I never wanted to mess it up, and if you don't have a good base to go on it could be disaster.  Today was my adventure in trying it out.  I used a Martha Stewart recipe and it got a ten out of ten from both my Mom and Andy.  The recipe was easy and I will definitely be using it again!

For a little color and flair I used chive flowers to garnish the dish.

Caesar Salad Dressing
1 large egg yolk
1TBS fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove minced
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together egg yolk and lemon juice.  Then mix in garlic, Parmesan, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce.  Stream in oil while whisking to emulsify.  Lastly salt and pepper to taste.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Progress in the Hive

Thursday was Cinco de Mayo and a gorgeous day!  In Mexico they were celebrating their independence and I was celebrating my independence from a day of rain.  It had been almost a week since we had a dry day.  To celebrate I decided to break open the hive to make sure the bees ongoings were normal and on schedule.

First was putting up the fencing to help direct the bee's flight and curb curiosity from passer byes.  By putting up the fence in front of the hive it forces the bees to go up and out instead of directly out.  This is important so that when I am in the old garden the bees don't fly out and unintentionally pelt me.  The second fence is to hopefully keep anyone from becoming too curious.  I also planted morning glories at the foot of this fence.  As they climb up the fence  I hope they give it an English cottage garden feel.

We left a gap between the fences so that we can still watch the bees coming and going from the kitchen window.  When we drive in and out we will also be able to pause and take a peek without having to go around.

Later in the day I opened up the hive to flip flop the boxes so the bees will be on the bottom since they always work their way up the hive and they were making their home in the top box.  I also wanted to check to make sure that the queen was laying eggs, brood (larva and baby bees) were on their way, and pollen was being collected.  When I opened the hive I was just hoping to find eggs, which are about 1/10th the size of a grain of rice and difficult to find.  I was pleasantly surprised to find eggs, larva growing, capped brood (the final stage for a brand new bee), packed pollen and nectar.  There are plenty of frames that still need the wax to be built out but the hive is definitely growing and on the right track!

In the middle of the picture inside some of the cells if you look closely you can see white worm like things, these are the brood or larvae.  On the left it is hard to tell on this picture but some of the larva have been capped which means they are growing through the last stage of growth and will emerge as bees.

You can see packed pollen in some of the cells and on the outer cells it looks like they are glistening, this is nectar.  As you notice there are many bees with their heads stuck inside the cells.  They are sucking up nectar.  Bees do this when you smoke the hive, they think it is on fire and are eating as much as possible getting ready to flee.  This is why smoke calms them down, really it makes them more concerned with self preservation than with what someone is doing in the hive.

You can see how some pollen is bright red and orange!

The bees have started to build out this frame but have a way to go.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Spring Dinner

In our house eggs are for more than just baking or breakfast we also eat them at lunch and dinner.  They are my quick go to when I haven't dethawed anything and we want to eat something soon.  Asparagus is something we also eat in large quantities in the Spring, because it is just better in season.  Out of season it just doesn't taste good and I don't like the fact that it has to travel a long distance just to get to me.

Most everything I used is from the farmers market.  Being that we now eat as locally as possible.  Eating locally can still be yummy and satisfying, you just don't eat asparagus year round.  But this actually makes asparagus enjoyable and exciting because you don't have it all the time.  It's like Christmas, since it only comes once a year we really get into the spirit but if we had it all the time it wouldn't be a big deal.  Food can be the same, it's best during specific seasons when it is supposed to be grown and we get excited to eat it then. 

I don't really know what to call this.  It isn't a quiche or a fritatta, but I can tell you it was good!  I am one of those cooks who regularly does not follow recipes, just uses what's in her fridge, and adds a bit of this and a bit of that.  So to give an exact recipe for what I did is difficult, but here we go.

I first browned a pound of pork sausage and then set it aside.  In the drippings with a bit of extra virgin olive oil I browned some diced red potatoes and then a zucchini I had in the fridge.  I did not saute them until they were fully cooked only just to get them going, they finish cooking in the oven.  You could use any veggies you have on hand and this would also be the time I would add in any garlic, herbs or seasoning.  I returned the potatoes to the bottom of the pan in an even layer, then layered on the sausage and then the zucchini.  On top I poured on eggs that had been whisked with milk.  I used about 8-9 eggs and approximately 1/3 cup milk.  You need enough just to cover all the layers.  I then placed cut uncooked asparagus spears on top alternating bottom and top pieces.  Do not precook the asparagus otherwise you will have stringy overcooked mush.  I do not like overcooked asparagus, I never liked asparagus as I child because it was always overcooked.  I put the whole thing in the oven at 350 degrees until done, for me this was about 35 minutes.  You know its done when the middle doesn't jiggle when you shake the pan.  I start checking it after about 25-30 minutes and then check it in 5 minute intervals after that.  Once it was done we sliced it up and topped it with goat cheese.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Frost Advisory

It is May 5th and last night we had a frost advisory, which is unseasonably cool weather for this time of year.  In fact the past two nights we have dipped into the 30s.  So Monday evening even though there was no frost advisory yet I decided to go ahead and cover all my new tender transplants with row cover to protect them.  I will most likely uncover them all tomorrow when the evening temps make it back into the high 40s low 50s.  I knew that I was probably going to have to cover when I put them in a bit early, I just hope they show no wear and tear!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Catherine Ferguson Academy

I tend to shy away from statements of politics or religion here because while I have my own personal convictions I do not want to ostracize or offend anyone.  However this is a story that is getting national attention and I wanted to bring it to those of you who might not be aware of it.

I first read this story over on Garden Rant and then watched the Rachel Maddox coverage on You Tube.  The story is about Catherine Ferguson Academy a school in urban Detroit for young mothers or expectant mothers.  The school as part of it's graduation requirement expects you to go to college and will help you find a way to pay for it.  There is daycare on site while the girls are attending class.  In addition the school has a very large garden or "farm" with an orchard, animals and crops.  This is a school that is getting it right and providing a chance for those who might think they have no options.

Unfortunately this school is slated to being closed and students who are protesting the closing of the school are getting arrested.  By day I am a teacher and so this story tugs at my heart on a professional level as a teacher and personal level as woman and passionate gardener.  How can it be that a school that is providing services like none other is getting shut down?  I'm not quite sure what I can do or how others can help but I thought it was a story worth sharing.  The video is almost ten minutes long but definitely worth watching and I hope that you do!

Made From Scratch

About a month before the bees arrived I was looking for books at the Library when I stumbled upon Made From Scratch. I decided it looked interesting and checked it out along with a couple of other items. It sat on my counter for a few weeks while I worked on my bee research but I recently got around to actually reading it.

It was a quick read, only taking me 4 days to complete. It is a book about enjoying simpler things in life, slowing down, and disconnecting from our over stimulated world. I enjoyed reading about her experiences with gardening and beekeeping which I could relate to and understand. Her adventures in raising chickens only continued to further my desire to join her in this endeavor someday. And her skills in sewing and knitting has only continued to ignite my curiosity to learn how to sew. While the book has a few resources it is more for entertainment purposes to connect with someone who is living in ways similar to you or to find out about her experiences in ways you are striving to be like. Jenna definitely have some hobbies that extend beyond my interests but I enjoyed commiserating with someone else's trials and tribulations of leading a simpler life.

From the Introduction:

"The work in this book isn't about playing farmer, it's about being more responsible for the tasks we've become numb to. We expect food to be waiting at markets and entertainment to be a few buttons away. When you start producing your own food, even the simplest plot of potatoes, your life regains some of the authenticity we've all forgotten about. When you sit back against a tree with a mandolin on you lap instead of lying on the couch with three hundred channels of instantly recordable distraction, you gain a little more from your downtime. You'll find yourself more humbled, satisfied, and grateful to have found a balance that simplifies your life with the skills of the people who came before you."

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Planting Tomatoes

I think I have a problem . . .  I am addicted to tomato plants.  I planned for only 6 tomato plants this year but left the garden center with 8 and it was difficult not to get more.  It took me a good half hour if not more debating between varieties and then picking the perfect plant for each variety. 

I ended up with Black Krim, Arkansas Traveler, Brandywine, Jubilee, San Marzano, Pineapple, Sweet 100, and Yellow Plum.  Some of the ones that I wanted but decided to try next year are: Amish Paste, Old German, and Mortgage Lifter.  I had a hard time deciding between Cherokee Purple and Black Krim.  I have had Cherokee Purple before and decided to give Black Krim a try, it's similar but different. 

However I still want to go back and get a variety called Independence Day which only takes 49 days to produce tomatoes which is a good month earlier than any other variety.  Based on the name they promise that you will have tomatoes by your Fourth of July barbecue.  The only problem is that I don't have any room for it and once the other tomatoes come in I won't really want it any more.

When I plant tomatoes I do everythinng in an assembly line fashion.  I space my tomatoes 2 feet apart, some people say they need 3 feet for highest yields, but based on my available space I only give them 2 feet.  First I measure out the spacing and place them in the garden to determine which variety will go where.

Once I know where everything is going I dig all of the holes.  The holes are almost as deep as the plant itself.  I put the plant into the hole to test if the depth is accurate or not.

Then once all the plants are dug I put in a mixture of eggshells, aspirin, bone meal and organic fertilizer.  I read about putting all of these components in to help prevent specific tomato diseases and issues.  Since then I have seen other people who use the same amendments.  This year however I used my food processor to grind up the eggshells and aspirin together.  This worked better than trying to evenly divide the pieces of eggshells.  The powder was easy to measure out into the holes, each plant ended up with the eggshells of about 4 eggs, 2 aspirin tablets, a tablespoon bone meal and fertilizer.  

After those items are in the whole you cover it up with just a bit of dirt and then place the tomato in.  Most of the tomato is buried in the whole because the hairs on the stem and buried branches will become roots which will create a more stable, healthy plant in return yielding more fruit.