Monday, June 10, 2013

The Garden Tour

General Lee Cucumber (the history nerd in me loves this)
What a wonderful growing season we've had so far!  Compared to the horrible heat and drought of last year, this summer is looking promising. *knock on wood* It's not only the weather that has me feeling optimistic about the garden this year; I've also changed my garden philosophy.

OutRedgeous lettuce is gorgeous!
For the last few years, I've put in a few pepper and tomato plants, some pole beans, and that's been it.  I hadn't done much to the soil (even with my composter) and sort of relied on Mother Earth to do her thing.'t worked out that well.  I got a few tomatoes, some green beans, and a sad looking pepper or two.  Granted, the conditions were not optimal, but I didn't do much to put the gardening odds in my favor.
Basil - the only crop I could count on in previous years
This year, thanks to some awesome BBC shows (it's amazing how much cooler gardening sounds when explained in a British accent - thank you Alan Titchmarsh!) and a lot of internet research, I feel much more knowledgeable about all things garden.  My soil is full of nutrients, I've studied up on my companion planting, and I know organic ways to deal with common garden problems.

A plethora of pots
I've also hedged my bets.  Like any good businesswoman (or gardener) would do, I've diversified!  Instead of a few plants in one place, I decided to grow every kind of veg I could, in as many places as possible.  In addition to my two house-hugging plots, I've added a raised bed and rounded up as many pots as I could find (rather easy/terrifying in my 100 year old basement).
I've tried to separate each kind of plant so there's at least one in the garden and one in a pot. That way SOMETHING should survive in case of drought, pests, disease, what have you. For example, the kale planted in my raised bed has been devoured by white moth caterpillars (those small, bright green ones), whereas the kale in the pot has only been lightly nibbled.  It's probably a little early to really know, but I'm feeling pretty good about harvest prospects.

Here's my complete growing list:
  • Beets
  • Radishes
  • Zucchini
  • Cucumbers 
  • Pie Pumpkins
  • Butternut Squash
  • Tomatoes - Roma, Chocolate Cherry, Yellow Pear, Roma Cherry, and Brandywine
  • Peppers - Poblano, Apple, Sweet Yellow, Sweet Italian Red
  • Carrots
  • Pod Peas
  • Snap Peas
  • Pole Beans
  • Kale
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes - will go in when the garlic comes up in a few weeks
  • Greens - OutRedgeous and Bibb lettuces, Spinach
  • Herbs - Basil, Sage, Rosemary, Chives, Dill, Thyme, Parsley, Mint
Garlic - will be ready in a few weeks.
You know to pick when 1/2 the leaves
turn brown.
From left: rosemary, sage, and dill
I also have the same herbs planted directly into the garden, 

but I plan on bringing these inside as soon as it gets cold.

We've already made full meals out of the lettuces and kale.  We've picked some pretty beautiful radishes and I've used all of the herbs in some way or another - in bread, on fish, dip, etc.  I've tried to sow successive batches of many crops a few weeks apart so that we can enjoy our harvest throughout the summer (another move I'm trying).  Here's hoping it all works out!  For now, I'll just enjoy looking at how magnificent it all is!

I'm growing my lettuces between rows of trellised green beans.
As the beans grow, they will shade the cool-weather greens, at least until they bolt. 
Pod Peas - can you see the pod forming with the flowers?
Butterstick Zucchini
Radishes are some of the easiest and fastest crops to grow from seed!

As soon as you see the first flowers, you should prune the "suckers"
(the branches that appear between the main stem and the leaves)
to promote a strong main stem and direct the plants energy to the right places.
My pie pumpkin is taking over!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Kickin' off gardening season!

I love that it's 8:30 in the morning and I have the front door open to let in that glorious warm air and sunshine.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who is ready (sooooo ready) for spring!  It's not only that I feel more like myself when I can be outdoors, but also I can start the laborious yet gratifying process of growing my own food!

I am eager to get going.  It's only been warm for a few days but I've already cleaned out the garden beds, mixed in pounds and pounds of compost, and spread new mulch on the flower beds (I weirdly love that smell).  Alas, I'm hurrying up just to wait.  There not much to do now but twiddle my thumbs until that frost date passes and I can finally put something in the ground.

I guess I can stay busy caring for the many seedlings I'm starting this year.  So far, I have sown Outredgeous lettuce, chocolate peppers, poblano peppers, Brandywine tomatoes, and Isis candy tomatoes.  Only the lettuce has emerged, but I'm sure the others are close.  I plan on sowing another batch next weekend to hedge my bets.  Some seeds I bought, but mostly I tried to save seeds from last year's crops.  This is the first year I have tried seed saving, so I hope it works!

I have high hopes for the Brandywine tomatoes - last year they were the only one of my tomato plants (including others bought at Lowes, the farmers market, and a local nursery) that not only survived the drought but flourished.  The plants were over 4 feet tall, lush, and produced multiple pound heirloom tomatoes.  Lovely!

This year I'm using Keurig K-cups to start my seeds (thanks to IU's Hilltop Garden Center for that tip).  They are the perfect size and they already have a hole for drainage at the bottom.  I keep mine in clear plastic lettuce containers for easy moving.  While I considered buying one of those large, fancy seed starting kits (they look so professional!), my pocketbook and my environmental sensibilities love using recycled materials instead.

Though I have grown plants from seed before, I feel like all the mistakes I have made in the past will paid off this year.  I've learned a lot!  Some tips I wish I would have known:

1) Always use light weight potting soil, not garden soil (even though it's cheaper).
2) Use a rotating fan to keep away mold/fungus and to promote stronger stems.
3) Use a spray bottle to give your seedlings with a few squirts of water EVERY day, especially at the beginning.
4) When transferring seedlings to a larger pot, pick them up by their leaves, never the stem, as that could damage their internal "organs."
5) Introduce your plants to the outdoor world gradually.  Unlike the rest of us, they need some spring transition time.

Check back in a few weeks to see how my seedlings are doing! Happy Spring!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Busy Knitting

Hello friends!  It's been a crazy winter here in Bloomington.  I've had a lot time on my hands due to my husband's busy teaching schedule.  It's given me ample hours pursue some long-lost knitting projects.  I thought I would share them with you!  I've included links for most projects.

For any knitters who haven't yet signed up for Ravelry, you need, yesterday.  It's the perfect site to find patterns, organize your knitting list, and get help if you need it (somehow I always do).  I find most of my knitting patterns on this site, though I still love my old standbys, Last Minute Knitted Gifts and More Last Minute Knitted Gifts by Joelle Hoverson.  I made these fingerless gloves with the help of Joelle:

I also made a few gifts for my loved ones.  My sister got this double cabled scarf and a retro headband. The ear warmer headband has become my go-to for a nice, quick gift - I must have given half a dozen for Christmas.  They are also an easy way to get rid of scrap yarn!

My other sister got a headband (she requested a bow that big)!  I made that one from a picture.  It was basically three rectangles, one with a slight indent in the middle, sewn together.

My husband received this sweater for Christmas.  However, he still hasn't worn it - my fault completely!  I was using stash yarn but ran out.  The matching yarn I bought was from a different dye lot.  Can you tell?  It bothers me enough that I am in the process of trying to re-dye the yarn with Rit dye.  I hope it works out and doesn't mess with the superwash finish on the wool!  I'll let you know....*finger biting*

My spring break project was to make my long, skinny dog a sweater.  She has virtually no body fat and gets cold if we aren't outside exercising.  This was the end result!  Not bad for having to change the pattern completely - Ginny is a size medium, large, AND extra large in different places!  What a weirdo.

I'm now on to a project for myself, finally!  I'm making myself this heirloom cardigan.  Though I'm still in the beginning stages, I already love the warm merino wool and delightful details, like the twisted stitch ribbing and the bound edge showing on the sleeves and bottom.  I'll make sure to post when I'm done!

While I'm am happy to share all my knitting projects with you, I really hope spring will be here soon.  I love cozying up with a cup of tea and some skeins of yarn, but I cannot wait to be outdoors gardening in the sunshine.  More on that later!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Molasses Spice Cookies

It finally feels like fall!  After a blistering hot summer (I literally can't remember the last time I was cold),  autumn has made an appearance.  Warm days, cool nights, leaves falling...I couldn't be happier!

I haven't posted for a while because we spent the summer doing amazing things, like:

Traveling to Mexico with some of the best friends ever,

going to wonderful weddings in Minneapolis...

....and Stillwater

and hanging out on the lake.

Alas, summer is over and it's back to work and back to school.  Somehow it's all more manageable knowing that pumpkin beers, cozy sweaters, and all of my favorite holidays are just around the corner.

With that in mind, here's one recipe that makes autumn even sweeter:

Molasses Spice Cookies
from Best Recipe (by Cook's Illustrated) - I highly recommend this cookbook!

For cookies:
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
3/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground allspice
12 tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C dark brown sugar, packed
1/2 C granulated sugar, plus 1/3 C for rolling cookies
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 C unsulphured molasses

For glaze:
1 1/4 C powdered sugar, sifted
2 tbsp milk

Adjust racks to up and lower middle positions and heat oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk flour, baking sode, salt, and spices together in a medium bowl and set aside.

Cream butter, brown sugar, and 1/2 C granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes with a mixer on medium speed.  Add egg, vanilla extract, and molasses.  Beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Add dry ingredients and beat a low speed until just combines, about 30 seconds.

Place remaining 1/3 C sugar in a shallow bowl or pie pan.  Pinch off and roll 1 inch balls of the dough.  Roll in sugar and place on an ungreased cookie sheet (use parchment paper for easy clean up).

Bake, reversing position halfway through baking, 11 - 13 minutes.  The outside edge should begin to set and the center should be fluffy.  Cool on sheets for a few minutes before transferring to cooling rack.

To glaze the cookies, use a spoon and work dripping the glaze diagonally across a few cookies at a time.  To make clean up easier, put your used parchment paper under the cooling rack.  Viola!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Garlic Pesto


Jeez, it's hot!  These 100 plus degree days have really been taking a toll on my garden.  Between the heat and our upcoming vacation to Mexico (where it is 20 degrees cooler - yay!), I knew I had to do something with my herbs before I lost them!  I can't tell you how pleased I was to bring in a beautiful, full crop of basil.  Look at those gorgeous leaves!

In a way, I almost feel silly writing a recipe for pesto.  Pesto is one of those foods that can be made a million different ways and still be amazing.   Just doing a search for "pesto" on yielded 588 results!  Yikes.  I'm not sure that I can really say that my recipe beats those 588 others, but I thought I would share it anyway because, darn, it's good!  It's also a food made for hot weather.  Use it in a pasta salad, with a tomato and slice of bread, or as a spread in a sandwich.

Garlic Pesto
Makes about a cup

4 cups packed fresh basil, washed and dried
1/2 cup parsley (optional - it makes the basil go a little farther)
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
3/4 cup parmesan cheese
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for storage

Place basil, parsley, pine nuts, parmesan, and garlic in a food processor.  Process, adding oil in a stream until all ingredient are fully integrated.  I like to make my pesto a little dry since it's easier to store, but feel free to add more oil if using the pesto right away.  If not, pesto should be mixed with more olive oil to make it "spreadable" right before use.

Transfer to a canning jar or other storage container.  Top with a layer of olive oil.  Jars can be stored in the refrigerator for several days or placed in the freezer for several months.

You can try many variations of this recipe.  Try adding more or less cheese, olives, or sun-dried tomatoes!  The possibilities are endless!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Arizona Biltmore

We went to a family reunion this weekend.  While it was so fun to meet the extended family, the best part of the weekend was the hotel (shhh....don't tell them). 

The Arizona Biltmore.  It truly is the jewel of the desert.  I don't normally share vacation destinations, but this one is too beautiful not to showcase.  I came away feeling inspired and excited for summer projects (which will be my next post).  I thought I would share some of the beauty with you. 

The hotel was built in 1929 (great year to start a luxury hotel, huh?) and was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  You can see his influence everywhere.  For more information, visit the official website.

A view of Squaw Mountain


I need these lights in my next house.

The lobby - don't you love all the geometric furniture?

One of the banquet halls

There are several pairs of these lovely ladies around the hotel.

The entrance 

A Frank Lloyd Wright stained glass design.  I believe it's called Saguaro.

More ladies...

Ludvic's Marilyn Monroe paintings

Inspiration is all around us.