2012 Summer Garden Notes

It’s about DAMN time.

I'll give you one guess as to what we'll be eating this week.

The garden this year has been…well, nothing to write home about. This is my 3rd year actively gardening and I can honestly say I have no idea what I am doing any more now than I did three years ago. That said, I have experienced three completely different summer yields, so I will just count that as experience and tell myself that true green thumbs don’t have all the answers, they have just seen many things in their years. Um…sure that sounds good.

It’s not like we went about it willy nilly this year. We had a plan:
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We knew what we wanted to grow and we stuck to it religiously. We decided early on that we were going to grow our tomatoes from seed this year instead of depending on Elizabeth to sprinkle her tomato fairy dust over our yard like she did last year. It seemed feasible, so we bought some seeds and planted them:
Day 17: green - late bloomers. Not sure about my tomato seedlings this year. #marchphotoaday #daylate

Somewhere along the line, they just…didn’t make it. They died a pretty spectacular death actually, ALL SEVENTY TWO OF THEM, despite many attempts at resuscitation. Elizabeth had been nice enough to offer us some seedlings again, but it was during one of the more promising phases of resuscitation so I declined. When it was clear that none of them were going to make it, I made a panicked run down to the hardware store and just bought up some random tomatoes.

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I had been looking forward to some fun heirloom varieties again, but Home Depot Romas were going to have to do.

And for a while this was fine. Things seemed to be alive. Nothing was OBVIOUSLY dying, but I just didn’t have a great feeling about the whole thing, despite doing a lot of soil testing and fertilizing and general tending. Finally at the end of June some things started to pop up, and I felt a glimmer of hope.

But then the squash started growing and being tough and bumpy on the outside and dry on the inside. It didn’t matter if we picked it early or late, it was gross and kind of inedible. Then the cucumber plants just died. Like, with no production at all really. Womp Womp.

The zucchini went through a phase where it was super prolific, but after producing about 24 squash it’s just sort of gone kaput.

And then, nothing happened. Sure there were green tomatoes lurking in cages but literally for weeks, there was NOTHING. One little yellow watermelon out of the blue that was amazing, but then back to NOTHING.

Holy crap I grew a watermelon!

At the end of July the overall yield beyond what I’ve listed had been two tomatoes. They were delicious tomatoes, but still only two measly tomatoes:
FINALLY! Something delicious comes out of the garden!
And the irony of all ironies is that they came from a resurrected tomato plant that survived from last year because it was one of Elizabeth’s Original Seedlings from 2011. I mean FOR REAL?

I was starting to feel like the entire garden situation had been a waste this year. And then today, I just thought I saw a little bit of red out there in the garden beds and I came back inside with all this:

Despite the fact that we will be eating tomatoes until our mouths are raw this week (gladly, though!) my faith in gardening has been completely restored. This may be the only good thing to come out of the last week over 100+ degree temperatures.

I forgive you now, Mother Nature. But you are on notice.

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Where Did You Go, Weekend??

How is it Monday already?

No seriously, which one of you is responsible for this giant hole in the space/time continuum. WHERE DID THE WEEKEND GO???

I was so happy to make it to Friday last week, but I ended up crapping out early on Friday night, which as it turns out was the theme of my whole weekend. :) It may have had something to do with the heat + some serious workouts!

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I’m so glad that it is going to to cool down this week…although luckily I get to workout 3 mornings this week, instead of in the afternoon.
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I know people think I am crazy for looking forward to 5 am workouts, but when those temps hit triple digits all summer long, I’m GRATEFUL when my alarm goes off at 3:45!

Saturday I got together with my mama to celebrate Mother’s Day a bit early. She works on Sundays so we met up at the mall that is located halfway between our two houses for some lunch (Tri-Tip!) and some shopping on Saturday morning. I found this old pic of us this weekend while cleaning up some things in my office and I just LOVE it! But it totally blows my mind that my mom had a 2 year old when she was only 26…NUTS!!!

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We found some GREAT deals at the mall (probably because we looked inside every. single. store. HA!) but my favorite score was this cross-body bag I nabbed at H&M for $20. First off — OMG THERE IS FINALLY AN H&M in my area! Yessssssssssss! Second, Garrett has been hounding me about “the gym bag that I carry around and call a purse” and nudging me to find something smaller and less shoulder-pain inducing, so I finally took the plunge and bought something “practical.”

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But I still think it’s cute! Maybe it’s my impending middle age, but the practicality of it makes me so happy. I kept walking around this weekend and yelling “I have two hands to carry things with!” It’s really a game changer. :)

Ok ok, I also bought a couple pairs of new shoes including these babies. But they were $17 at the Gap, so how could I say no? They practically jumped on my feet in the store!
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And I’m totally wearing them today too…like a kid who walks out of the shoe store unwrapping their new toy! I have no patience when it comes to new things. Plus, I love them!

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Sunday I did my grocery shopping in the morning and hit up the Farmer’s Market. That was enough, frankly, but when I got home it was time to tackle the garden beds in the backyard. I have had Garden Drama this year, which I’ll probably tell you about in another post since it is gardening blog post season (ha!) but the short story is: we were SUPER behind on planting and it had to be taken care of on Sunday, or else. So I did just that.

Garden Intervention.

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And do you want to hear something silly? I totally gardened in my bathing suit! It felt really efficient, actually, since I wanted to get some sun. But it also felt COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS, but what the hell — it’s my backyard! I can do what I want! You’re not getting a picture of THAT though. :)

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Then I prepped some food for the week including breakfast packs and salads for our lunches. Is it just me or do salads get prettier in the summer?

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For dinner I grilled up a couple of pork loins as part of my “Clean Out All The Questionable Meat in My Freezer” project. I want to tell you they tasted bad, since this is totally not fancy-schmancy pork, but they were pretty bomb! I had marinated them with Olive Oil, Champagne Vinegar and tons of salt, pepper, onions and garlic and man did they come out RIGHT!

Dinner. Shortly.

Also I made what is sure to be my Favorite Summer Cocktail. Recipe coming to the blog this week. AH-MAZING!

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So refreshing, and so dangerously devoid of any indication that it is alcoholic! Is it any wonder I was crapped out on the couch by 8pm last night?

*****

How was your weekend, friends? Do you prefer a busy, activity filled weekend or a more restful relaxing one? For me it depends on the week!

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2011 Summer Garden Notes

I have spent many hours over the last couple of days digging up my garden beds to get ready for fall. I can’t believe I’m trying it again either, but what the hell!?! This has meant lots of time to reflect on things I did well this summer and the things I did not so well.

My summer garden was, in some ways, so much more successful than I anticipated. It started as an experiment and there were lots of challenges, but in the end it was totally worth it. I wish I had kept a spreadsheet of all the produce harvested (Nerd Alert!) so I could give you the stats, but alas you will have to settle for these unofficial notes. I want to have something to look back on next year to help guide me.

Crookneck Squash Bonanza

What Worked

*Soil TestingI mentioned this back in May when I started getting everything ready and honestly, I think it was 100% the reason we had overflowing amounts of everything. Well that, and we planted A LOT. I hardly fertilized but I think because I started with soil that had all the correct amounts of pertinent things, it helped my otherwise novice skills.
Soil Testing...will it make a difference?

*Elizabeth’s Tomatoes
– I bought 4 tomato plants from Lowe’s and planted 12 little seedlings that Elizabeth gave me. The Lowe’s tomato plants? Were garbage. Only one produced regularly and the rest were just limp, lifeless and hardly had any fruit. Despite all that, we still produced over 220lbs of Tomatoes (OHMYGOD, I KNOW!) I stopped counting mid-August mostly because I forgot, and because at that point I started giving them away to people on the streets. Next year I will seed myself and put in the freakin’ effort. Totally worth it.

Thanks Elizabeth!
Eat me!

*Spaghetti Squash + Zucchini – These were amazing and awesome to have around all summer. No maintenance. I planted 2 spaghetti squash plants and 2 zucchini plants. I would definitely plant again. Maybe even MORE zucchini?

*Garrett’s Irrigation System – Despite the fact that we fought like crazy over this (also over staking tomatoes) — Gardening: Good for the Tummy, Bad for the Relationship? — having an irrigation system hooked up to timers that automatically watered was paramount to maintaining a garden this size. Everything would have died otherwise, I’m sure of it. Worth the time, money, effort and bickering.

What Didn’t Work

*Lemon Cucumbers – I actually enjoyed these in June and a bit in July but then they started getting REALLY seedy. Didn’t love that. Might just plant regular or burpless cucumbers next year. Oooh, or pickling cucumbers. Yes, those!

*Bell Peppers – After all damn summer, I got ONE pepper. One. And it wasn’t even very big. I think I’m either doing it wrong or they are a pain in the ass to grow. Either way, not worth it. Won’t plant again. Or mayby I’ll do jalapenos or something small??
Miniature Green Pepper

Seriously?????

*Crook Neck Squash (maybe) – This was delicious at the beginning of summer. Towards the end they started getting super bumpy and dry on the inside. I don’t know what causes this. Then they would grow and look normal on the vine, only to be discovered completely HOLLOW when I would pick them. Weird. I love squash, but I will pick a new kind next year and probably seed it myself.

Herbs — dude, this was another pain in the ass. I planted Dill, Lemon Thyme, Basil and Rosemary. The dill died, I never used the lemon thyme and then IT died, the rosemary just become a fort for spider webs, and the basil, while that did well, I forgot to pinch off the flowers so it ultimately stopped growing Herbs are drama. May or may not attempt again next year.

Miscellaneous Notes

*Just Wear Gloves– Yes you will probably only be out there for a minute but just do it, ok.

*See Also: Sunscreen.– Nuff said.

*Cage your freaking tomatoes.
– Don’t be a dummy again next year.

*Keep a Spreadsheet – acknowledge your nerdiness. Delegate to Garrett, the spreadsheet nerd of the house.

*Pick tomatoes more often – also can them. You will miss fresh tomatoes this winter. FIGURE IT OUT.

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All in all this was a totally fun experiment and I can’t wait to track fall progress!

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Gardening Tips From Dummies…er, For Dummies?

Well I’m pretty sure there is more action happening in the garden this week than in all of the combined dressing rooms of New Kids on the Block circa 1989.  By the way, I have a strong memory of once watching an interview with NKOTB only to hear Joey McIntyre say he was “saving himself” for the right girl.  I also have a strong memory of wondering what exactly he was “saving”, but feeling like this obviously meant THERE MIGHT BE A CHANCE FOR ME!  Oh Joey, my 12 year old self could have been the right girl for you!  Ah, youthful naivete. 

You know what, upon re-reading that it sounds kind of creepy, but fret not you guys – it is sooooo the opposite of creepy.  I HAD NO IDEA WHAT HE WAS SAVING, for the love of God. Sheltered, suburban upbringing folks.    

(Oh man this post has already devolved so quickly.)

Well as you can imagine, that naivete still exists in my world — though it goes without saying it is no longer youthful.  Now instead of hoping that some pop star will carry me away on a white horse, I have other ridiculous, Not-Based-In-Fact hopes.  Hopes like:  My tomatoes will totally grow if I don’t cage them.  Why does the world need cages anyway?  Cages are just so…cage-y! 

The lesson in all of this (that all of YOU probably saw coming a mile away) is that messing with Mother Nature is just never the best course of action.  Screwing with “The Right Way” to do things just because you have an overinflated ego or are lazy is a seriously lame thing to do.  Don’t be lame, yo.  You would think this would have been ingrained in my head considering the number of surfing documentaries I have watched in the last few weeks — which clearly ALL have a thematic don’tf*ckwithmothernature kind of undertone — but unfortunately you would be wrong.  This blog is nothing if not a documentary of my shortcomings. 


You see, I did a lot of research on caging tomatoes (read: I googled it once or twice) and couldn’t really figure out why I HAD to do it.  It looked like a pain, tomato cages are expensive, and so I just kept avoiding it in hopes that it would go away.  Who said I HAD to do anything.  I will show you, Mother Nature and Garden Gods all over the world.  Uh, yeah, so that didn’t work out.  Last weekend it became clear to me why caging is necessary — tomatoes are HEAVY, y’all.  And those poor little branches need some help.  Why I insist on always doing things the hard way is still a mystery to me.  

So I finally accepted the need for cages, only to realize that at this point all of our plants were so overgrown that caging them was not even an option.  Elizabeth warned me about this, and yet I still persisted in my laziness.  What can I tell you, I’m an idiot.  

So what were we to do? Well, we came up with an Emergency DIY Solution, obviously.  We decided to craft a makeshift trellis for each plant since that seemed to at least be somewhat feasible.  We headed to Home Depot, scratched our foreheads a great deal, turned down the help of more than 5 earnest employees who were clearly responding to the forehead scratching, and then came home and made this with some pieces of bamboo and some tape.

Why yes I do feel like a White Trash Gardening MacGuyver, thanks for asking!  But hey, the tomatoes are supported!  And look,  they are actually growing instead of sitting on the ground waiting to rot or be eaten by bugs!  It’s amazing how an afternoon of hard work and a vicious sunburn can change your perspective.  Wait, that’s not the most ringing endorsement.  But  I was happy!  I promise!

It’s not the prettiest or most long-lasting solution,  but last night we ate the most delicious Caprese Salad (White Balsamic Vinegar is a game changer) using our tomatoes and our Resurrected Basil (you guys, it didn’t die after all!) and I felt a little ray of hope that maybe our garden really will make it this year.



So shall we recap these helpful DIY Tips:

*Don’t mess with Mother Nature and be lame
*Do what gardening websites (and Elizabeth) tell you to do
*Herbs like to play dead, don’t fret


I know you come here for my highly educational commentary, so I didn’t want to deny you. 


Hey, speaking of Not Dead…I think my Meyer lemon and lime tree are back from the dead as well!  They were crusty and brown and well…dead-looking for months.  Then the other day, I saw this:



Signs of Life, people.  Blurry, off-center signs of life…but who cares!?!?  I thought it was a weed at first but it is totally a new branch of the tree.  What do you know about pruning lemon trees, internet?  I know you have mad skillz!

Everything else is chugging away producing fruit at a pace faster than we can eat (more fun garden photos here), so we have even started giving stuff away.  If you can think of any creative things to do with zucchini, squash, cucumbers, basil, or tomatoes especially, I’d love your input.  I’d like to do a bit more research on creative ways to Can My Harvest (bahahaha), but well…I think we all know how I do research.

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Oh. Right. The Garden.

So the garden has been humming along quite nicely with nothing wilting or turning brown or dying a violent death.  We have very low standards, so we’ve been pretty pleased with this development.  It has made a much lovelier back drop lately for our dinner picnics than four empty boxes ever would have, so we have been puffing up our chests around here and high fiving each other like we are certified organic farmers.

I know, I know…our levels of coolness are intimidating. 

On Friday I peeked in to see how everything was doing.  There are cute little spaghetti squashys.  Yes, squashys.  They’re so cute, I just kind of have to call them that.  Also I caught myself pinching them and talking in baby talk, but let’s just keep that last part between you and me. 



The tomatoes FINALLY have a little bit of fruit!  It’s green fruit, but it is fruit nonetheless.  I was getting nervous that I planted some fruitless tomato plants.  Tomato bushes?  I don’t know, but I just felt like every time I looked at the tomatoes there was a big sign above them that said YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!    Seeing this made me do a little BOO YAH! dance.  Y’all we are going to have A LOT of tomatoes.



And finally when I looked in at the zucchini I was excited to finally see some minis.  So small, and so cute!   

Of course if you have ever been a rookie gardener, you know how this zucchini story ends, right?  This morning I went out to see how those little baby zucchinis were doing and…well, would you look at that.  

Now Playing:  ATTACK OF THE GIANT ZUCCHINI

That guy on the bottom?  No biggie, he’s just FIFTEEN INCHES LONG.

So, lesson learned.  Once you see them, check more frequently.  I imagine I will be out there a little more often in the coming weeks.  In the meantime though, I have a very important question for you.   

Who’s got zucchini recipes? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand go!

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I Never Promised You An Herb Garden

Well my herb garden is pretty much looking like a disaster, friends.  This feels sort of like a betrayal because you always hear that herbs are the gateway garden, right?   A full fledged garden sounds sort of overwhelming, but anyone can grow herbs, right?  You don’t need garden beds, or rich soil, or mad skillz.  Everything I’ve read tells me I can them on a ledge in my kitchen, on a balcony, in little pots.  Herbs! You can grow them ANYWHERE!  

But I’m finding out the hard way that this is shameful propaganda.  Unless I am totally doing it wrong (and I just may be) the rest of my garden is thriving but most of my herbs are dead or wishing they were.  

Exhibit A:  The Dill

Y’all, this dill is either dead, or in hospice.  I won’t be sprinkling this on my salmon anytime soon!  (Good thing Garrett hates salmon.)

Exhibit B:  The Basil


While this isn’t quite as brown and dead looking as the dill, it is definitely looking far more like swiss cheese than I think it should.  Ina Garten’s basil in her backyard garden doesn’t have holes in it, WHY DOES MINE? 

Garrett calls Ina Garten “I’m a Gardener” in a snooty little Southampton voice whenever I make one of her recipes just to be obnoxious, but I feel like it is extra salt in the wounds lately because it is another reminder that I am completely NOT A GARDENER, INA — what is your secret???

He also calls Alton Brown “Alton Bunghole.”  I don’t know why I’m telling you this.  Dinner conversation around our house is lively, I promise you.

Maybe I just need to come to terms with the fact that the rest of my life will be full of store bought basil.  But you guys, I can hardly keep store bought basil alive.  I AM DOOMED.
  

Luckily, some of my tomato plants are looking pretty good.  

Actually they all look pretty good, but these are the only ones that I have responsibly put tomato cages around so these are the ones I’m going to show you.  Elizabeth came by this weekend (who you know, is my garden fairy) and I thought to myself “The Horror! She will see my uncaged tomatoes AND ALL OF MY FAILURES WILL BE EXPOSED”  and she totally didn’t judge me.  But I’m not sure I can trust the entire internet to do the same, so you only get that one picture.  It’s neat to see them grow though, they have all these cute little flowers on them which I am taking as signs that I’m NOT a totally lame gardener!  

So take THAT, Ina!

But the herbs, well, they continue to disappoint!  Have you encountered this before?  Am I doing something wrong?  Enlighten me, internet.  I know you are full of advice.  

Have you had success growing herbs?  TELL ME YOUR SECRETS…

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You Grow Girl

Remember how we redid our front and backyard and I was like “Hey, now I have to take care of 120 square feet of garden, how the hell am I going to do that?”  Well it turns out I am actually responsible for 198 square feet of garden, and since I obviously can’t even do the math correctly, you have to understand my trepidation.

Who has two (brown) thumbs and no innate gardening skills?  THIS GIRL!

Luckily, the internet is full of smarties so I can just steal there ideas and come here and pretend like I’m competent.  You know that’s not how I roll though, so instead I will expose my ignorance!  and then of course reveal my saviors and sources. 

So here’s the story…


(…of a lovely lady.  Who was bringing up 3 very lovely girls…Brady Bunch earworm, FTW!)

Currently the garden looks like this.  And all things considered, I feel pretty happy about it so far. 

  
These beds are filled to the brim with the following:
*Tomatoes (courtesy of Elizabeth who did the dirty work of growing plants from seeds and then feeling sorry enough for me to give me some.  She’s so nice and didn’t even laugh that hard at my novice questions.)
*Peppers
*Lemon Cucumbers (OMG, I die for these)
*Crook Neck Squash (since that is what my Grandma Marian always grew and it makes me think of her.  And hope that her green thumb will rub off on me in spirit.)
*Zucchini
*Spaghetti Squash (I feel like that shouldn’t grow in the summer, but they had it at Home Depot so I’m trying it.)
*More Tomatoes
*More Tomatoes
*Some More Tomatoes (did I mention we really really like tomatoes?)
*Herbs (basil, rosemary, dill, and thyme)


I took a picture of the rosemary because the dill looks dead and that is sad: 



What?  I’m just keeping it real.


There were two things we needed to contend with before we got all WOO-HOO-EY about the garden — the soil situation and the water situation.  This Situation  has to fend for himself:


For the soil I wanted to test it.  The first time I ever read about soil testing was last summer when I read this.  I laughed hysterically at that post, tucked it in the back of my mind for later, and continued to pour my Miracle Grow on my garden.  It seemed to work fine, but this year I wanted to try my hand at modifying my own soil because thinking about Miracle Grow having pee in it kinda grossed me out.  What can I tell you, I’m the kind of person who won’t eat mushrooms on principle because they are a fungus.  And fungus can grow between your toes?  Or on POOP!   Pee Fertilizer was pushing it for me.  So I bought myself a soil test kit and followed the instructions and actually it was quite easy.  



It sure made me feeeeeeeel fancy, but let me let you in on a secret:  it’s easier than mixing a cocktail.  Which I totally did while I waited for my soil samples to turn colors so that I would know what my soil was lacking.  Turns out the beds needed some Nitrogen and Phosphorous, so I went down to my local hardware store to pick up some Bone Meal and Blood Meal to add to amend the soil.  And then I realized that adding bone and blood to my soil so that I didn’t have to add pee because, um ew gross, wasn’t really sound reasoning but we were already in the thick of things, so I forged ahead!  


Spoiler alert:  Bone and Blood meal don’t look gross.  But then again Miracle Grow doesn’t really look like pee, so again my rationale is sort of floating in the wind.  Take that for what its worth.  


So with the soil amended I had to figure out how I was going to water all 198 square feet of Garden Beds,  and when I brought it up to Garrett he said “Oh, do you need a bucket?”  And when I finally picked myself up off the ground from laughing so hard I said “Sure get me a bucket.  And the next time you want to shower I will bring you a bottle of eye drops so you can GIT’R Done.”  I may have also added in an expletive or two, but I am experiencing some selective amnesia about that entire exchange.  What I do remember is that I sent him off to Home Depot and said “Bring me a drip system” in my very best evil villain voice.  But hey, now it looks like this:  


Garrett feels proud of himself and we have thirsty plants no more since he magically hooked it up to our automatic sprinkler system!  Symmetry and irrigation get me all hot and bothered so you don’t have to worry that Garrett is being abused in this situation.  He’s just fine.  I promise. 


(DO I WANT A BUCKET?  BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!) 


So the soil is tested, the plants are planted (Thanks again Elizabeth!) and  the garden waters itself.  All in all I am feeling pretty good about things.  You know aside from our dill plant being all dead and stuff. 

I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but for now I am feeling like I’ve got kind of a handle on things.  I mean of course a loose handle hanging off the side of a jalopy, but a handle nonetheless.

So while we are talking gardening:

What are you growing in your garden this summer?

Do you know of any fun gardening websites I should be reading?  

I mean I can’t ask Elizabeth all of my questions or she might figure out start to think that I’m a total garden loser.

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