We’ll always have arugula

Welp, the rabbits have had their day and then some.  They have summarily and sneakily done away with our ground-level lettuces, kale, romanesco, and endive. They also managed to get back into the peas, despite the brand-new netting on the cage. (Which they chewed right through – one hole on each side of the cage.) We’ll do a pictures round-up next week to show off the devastation.

SIGH.

Now, we knew that this might be a problem regardless of our efforts with planting bunny-keep-away flowers and redoing some of the netting on the cages,  but we didn’t quite expect that the rabbits would purposefully and, to be frank, knowingly try to get at our crops. Them chewing right through the netting surrounding the peas is testament to that. With the peas, at least, we repaired the holes in the net cage with double layers of new netting, and they’ve not chewed any new holes since, so maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s what drove them to decimate everything else in sight. We’re not sure. Without giving the rabbits too much credit, is it too crazy to think that they know what we’re going to plant and where? Hmm. It seems like we might have to rethink our planting strategies next year.

Anyway, of all the leafy green things in the ground that rabbits enjoy, they have always avoided the arugula. Oh, they’ll step all over it to get to the more succulent lettuces, but they’ve never taken but a bite of any of it. We’ve also noticed that they haven’t touched our little bunches of mesclun mix, which contain a formidable green that almost tastes like mustard or horseradish. (But it’s not a mustard green, as far as we can tell.) And they can’t get to the greens that we have growing in a small hanging bed, so that’s a plus. But now we’re thinking: are peppery, potent, spicy greens the way to go for ground-level planting?

If so, that’s fine by us! We l-o-v-e arugula, and this year we planted two different types. In the picture above, which contains a mix of argulas and other greens, we have standard arugula, the kind with the big, fluted leaves that one might see in the grocery store. It’s generally peppery with a delicious licorice-like flavor. But then we have Wild Rocket Arugula, which is like a mini version of standard arugula. It’s got an even stronger flavor that almost like lemon-pepper. Since we started planting arugula a few years ago, it’s always done well. And it’s the kind of green that we can re-seed (though it also seeds itself, we’ve found) throughout the season.

So despite whatever problems the rabbits have caused, we’ll always have arugula. 🙂

 

One can never have too many strawberries…maybe

If there’s one thing that we’ve wanted to do ever since starting strawberries, it’s make a strawberry pie.  Okay, so maybe it’s not the most groundbreaking goal, but it’s a goal nonetheless.  And as trite as it might sound, it really comes down to the true goal: get enough strawberries to make a pie. Well, this year, the strawberries haven’t disappointed.

Last week we lamented a bit on how much critters, like slugs and squirrels, like strawberries too. (And we swear we saw a shrew in the strawberry patch the other day, too.) Last week, we were also dealing with a bout of grim, wet weather.  So far this week, not only have we had clear skies,  but it’s been sunny and hot. Like record-breaking H.O.T., which stinks for the humans, but is great for the strawberries.  In fact, it’s possible we might have too many strawberries…

…nah.

Anyway, back to the pie. The recipe for the pie we had in mind came from our trusty Better Homes and Garden cookbook: Berry Glacé Pie. It sounds fancy, but it’s super simple, requires no cooking save for a baked pie shell, and as it turns out, totally delicious. (As much as we’ve wanted to make a strawberry pie, the worry remained that a baked pie would result in mushy, nearly non-existent berries, which is pretty unappetizing.  Because this is a chilled pie, the berries stay nice and firm, softening up only slightly over time.)

Berry Glacé Pie

 Ingredients

1 baked pie shell (homemade, store-bought, your choice)
8 cups fresh strawberries (the smaller, the better)
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch

(Yes, 4 ingredients; that’s it!)

Instructions

  1. Prepare you pie shell in whatever manner is necessary.
  2. For strawberries, remove stems and leaves. Cut any large strawberries in half lengthwise and set aside in a bowl.
    (Note: since all our strawberries have to be vetted for anything that might have burrowed their way inside [yuck], we cut all our strawberries in half. The prettier version of the pie, as listed below, contains whole strawberries that are neatly arranged with their pointy ends up. We just layered our berries as they seemed to best fit.)
  3. For the glaze, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine 1 cup of the strawberries and 2/3 water. Cover and blend or process until smooth. Add enough additional water to the mixture to equal 1 1/2 cups. In a medium saucepan combine sugar and cornstarch; stir in blended berry mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Cook and stir 2 minutes more. (Optional: stir in a few drops red food coloring.) Cool for 10 minutes without stirring.
  4. Spread about 1/4 cup of the glaze over bottom and sides of pie crust. Arrange half of the remaining strawberries, stem ends down, in pastry.
  5. Carefully spoon half of the remaining glaze over berries, making sure all berries are covered. Arrange remaining berries over first layer. Spoon remaining glaze over berries, covering each. Chill for 1 to 2 hours. (After 2 hours, filling may begin to water out). Garnish with whipped cream.

The most surprising thing about this pie, and maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all,  is how refreshingly bright it tastes. Because our berries are a little tart and the glaze is very sweet, the pie is perfectly balanced, neither too sweet nor too tart. It’s also kept pretty well over several days, despite the recipe’ s warning that the glaze might become watery. Ours hasn’t, though it has congealed, darkened, and become a little cloudy. It’s probably best, indeed, that the pie is eaten sooner rather than later, but as much as we could probably eat a single pie in a day, we probably shouldn’t.  Probably.

Take one baked pie shell…
…and some strawberries…
…top with glaze and chill. Voila!
Presently, the strawberry crop is slowing down a little, though new growth is appearing, as are new flowers. Right now, we’ve got enough berries for another pie, but maybe we should aim to make jam or something. We’ll see.
Meanwhile in the garden, things are doing okay.  It’s looking like the majority of tomato seedling are starting to really take root. Can’t say the same about the peppers, sadly. Looks like another slim year there. But the cucumber, beans, and squash are all taking off, as are some of the radishes. Peas are another story. (Maybe we’ll get to that lament week.) And we’ve got greens for days. Delicious!
So many delicious salads!

Berry Good

Despite the fact that we got the garden started later than usual this year, the strawberries are right on time! June is strawberry month round these parts, and we were heartily rewarded this past week with a host of ripened and ripening berries.

So far, we’re on track for our largest harvest yet, and that just from looking at all the berries to be that are still outside. In the past, not only was our strawberry spread not as large, but it always seemed as though the birds and squirrel got to them before we ever did. This year, the rainy weather has kept most of the critters at bay. Plus, we’re picking the berries just before they get to their sweetest points, and then we’re ripening them indoors. The results aren’t perfect – the berries remain a little tart – but we’d rather get a sizeable harvest than a totally perfect harvest.

Unfortunately, the rainy weather has has its downside for the berries in the form of slugs. Ick. There’s nothing more disappointing than seeing what looks like a perfect berry only to turn it around and find it either half-eaten or worse, with a slug still in residence. Bad berries with slugs get tossed; bad berries without them get squished back into the soil in the hope for more berries in the years to come. Interestingly, bugs in general haven’t seemed to bother the berries. It’s really only the slugs that have been a problem. Because of them, all berries get thoroughly washed and checked before any eating happens. Biting into a bad berry…well…that’d be no fun.

:::shivers:::

But enough talk about slugs. The point is, we have strawberries, and they are delicious! We hope to have strawberries spread into the garden bed that sits right on the side of the house. Because the more strawberries we grow, the better our chances are of getting good harvests. After all, it’s not like the slugs or birds or squirrel can eat ALL the berries, right?

RIGHT?

🙂

Gray Skies Are Gonna Clear Up?

So after having a truly successful time in the garden last weekend, this past weekend was…well…a little less so. It wasn’t a complete letdown — we did enjoy some Memorial Day festivities, and we got out in the garden to finish transplanting our tomato and pepper seedlings, but it was cool and gray overall. And rainy. Pretty darn rainy, in fact, late Sunday into Monday (Memorial Day), which we didn’t expect. And unfortunately all this took its toll on the new seedlings, especially the peppers. Despite the fact that we did everything we could to harden them off properly, the pepper remained especially fragile. Not all of them succumbed to the rain, but many of them did. The same went for a handful of the tomato seedlings, but most of them seemed to survive okay. If anything, they remain susceptible to being dug up by birds and squirrels, but that’s our fault. We haven’t been as diligent with using netting as we have been in the past. It’s actually proven to be more of a headache than anything.

Anyway, we still have a few seedlings left in their trays, so we’ll likely be putting them out this coming weekend to take the places of anything that died. Additionally, we still have to seed out flower beds in the front yard and generally plant flowers wherever there are free spots. (Flowers are this year’s critter-keep-away experiment!) On watch right now are the strawberries, which are now starting to ripen…and they’re getting noticed by the squirrels. And slugs. Yuck. Yeah, the wet weather really hasn’t helped with the slugs. It looks like things are going to clear up and warm up over the week, so fingers crossed that we’re able to start strawberry picking soon!

Besides waiting to see if all our new plantings take, we’ve been enjoying what’s becoming a very decent crop of green and lettuces!

Two of our raised beds hold a luscious variety of leafy things, including what we most recently harvested: a mix of mesclun greens, baby arugula, a few leaves of a red spinach (can recall the variety at the moment…), and baby leaves from two of our new leaf lettuces: Green Ice and Red Vulcan. The mesclun mixes are really potent. Not sure of the exact varieties they contain, but mustard green are certainly one of them. Together with the peppery arugula, they’ll set your soaring into spiciness! Thankfully, the leaf lettuces are buttery and mild, and the spinach is nice and earthy. All together, the spinach and mild lettuces and spicy greens, tossed with just a hint of a sweet balsamic vinaigrette, form a beautiful and very tasty salad. This most recent harvest only formed enough for a couple side salads, but soon we should have enough to start making main-dish salads. Really looking forward to that!

Now we’re cooking!

And we mean “cooking” in the figurative sense. We will certainly be cooking, literally, later on in the summer once all of our lovely vegetables appear, which we’ve now fully planted! Well…almost. Though we still have at least one plot to plant, over the weekend, we met our goal to have the majority of the rest of the garden planted. This included our tomato and pepper seedlings, along with cucumbers, squash, and beans.

While we didn’t need to get everything in the ground this past weekend — our planting calendar’s last viable day for planting is May 31 — we didn’t want to miss out on the perfectly perfect weather. Okay, so it was a little on the cooler side generally, but we’d much rather be working outside when it’s in the breezy 70s than in the heat of the 90s.  Plus, a big rainy storm just passed, and we wanted to get things in the ground before any more mudiness ensued. So we set to work last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. And it paid off!

First off, we planted our cucumber bed. And though you can’t really tell from the picture, there are little mounds all around the edges from which cucumbers will soon sprout! We also uncovered a couple volunteer cucumbers that you can see at the bottom and right-hand edges.

Then, we seeded the entire bean bed. In the horizontal rows are all of our bush beans, and then pole beans will eventually take over the cages in the middle.  At the far end of the bed, we ended up planted more peas. That particular spot is very shady thanks to a neighboring tree, and nothing we’re ever put there has seemed to do well. In the past, we’ve tried beans and cucumbers, and their yields were mediocre. This year, we decided on peas. If nothing else, they might just save the beans! We know from past experience that rabbits really like bean shoots, but they really, really like pea shoots. So if any peas do come up, we’ll happily sacrifice them as long as they distract the rabbits from the beans.

Moving on, we planted eight groupings of tomato seedlings along the edge of our first stone bed. There’s still asparagus coming up on the other side, so we’re avoiding planting there for the moment. (That may change as we have lots of tomato seedlings.) (Also, sorry for the sideways picture. A couple others are probably coming up. We were a little tired at this point.)

In the second stone bed are all our squashes. After getting way too many traditionally large zucchini a couple years back, we didn’t plant any zucchini seeds this year, save for a small golden zucchini variety. The volunteer squash at the end of the bed is still a question mark, but hopefully we’ll get some nice variety this year — acorn, butternut, pattypan, long pie, and so on.

And along the back, our barrels contain an array of peppers and tomatoes.

(Seriously, the sideways pictures are bit much. Going to have to look at these camera settings!)

All in all, we had a great weekend of planting, and it’s a relief to have just about everything in the ground now. As we mentioned, we still have at least one more bed to plant – not sure yet what’s going to go in it. Probably more tomatoes and peppers, somehow. But that decision will have to wait until next weekend. Also, it looks like we may be harvesting strawberries soon! Probably not within the rest of the month, but hopefully next month. They’ve been a little slow to grow and ripen, but it looks like some warm weather is once again on it’s way, which will really help them along.

And finally, check out what else we found growing:

This is a tall red poppy that we found growing in our yet-to-be flower beds at the edge of front yard. (By “yet-to-be” it means that the beds need to be weeded and planted. More tasks for Memorial Day weekend!) The funny thing is that we’ve never specifically planted any poppies in these beds, ever. However, last year we got some free wildflower seeds from our of our seed companies, and we scattered them in these flower beds. Nothing came of them last year, but we think this poppy was part of the mix, and somehow the seeds survived the winter. It’s a very pretty flower, and the plant looks like it contains a few more buds, so maybe we’ll see a few more flowers show up before its demise.

In a holding pattern

So it seems that this year, March and May decided to switch places. During March, temperatures round here were moderate to above average. Now here was are in May with days barely reaching 60 degrees! While it’s nice to not suddenly be in the 80s (June will be here soon enough), this weather pattern has put a damper on gardening activities. And the rain isn’t helping either.  Well, it is helping of course, but you know what we mean.

Last Friday we had a dreary day full of rain, and it soaked the backyard through and through. The idea then was to hope that things dried out enough, and got warm enough over Saturday so that we could start some tomato and pepper transplants on Sunday. What actually happened was that it was cold and showery on Saturday and even colder but less showery (though it still rained a little) on Sunday. So our ground has been too cold and too soggy for anything much, though some of the lettuces and green that we planted that time around have started showing small sprouts. Nothing too exciting is happening yet, however. If things dry out a little this week, maybe we ‘ll have something fun to show next time.

Maybe.

These past couple mornings, we’ve been waking up to temperatures in the 40s! Yes…four-zero. In May. And the daytime highs have only just broke 60. As long as it doesn’t rain between now and the weekend, the ground might be warm enough for the tomato and pepper seedlings, but we’ll just have to wait and see. (According to the current weather report, it’s possible that we’ll have another cold wash-out this coming Saturday…so that’s just great. 😦 ) It’s certainly not warm enough yet for in-ground seeds, such as squash and cucumbers and beans. However, it does look like some of our early pea plants might just make it…if they can survive the two silly rabbits we keep seeing around the yard. (And where there are two rabbits, there are bound to be little ones eventually.) Ah, such are the trials and tribulations of gardening.

By the way, it’s not like we’re just sitting around twiddling our thumbs as we wait for the weather to warm up. We just started renovating one of our bathrooms, and it’s been more than enough to keep us busy inside. In fact, the process turned up some troubling insulation problems that need to be rectified. Do you know what mangled and decaying 50-year-old insulation looks like? Friends, it is gross and dusty. And gross. And really, really dusty.  After dealing with it, working outside in the cold rain sounds like paradise.

We’ll sign off with a look at our seedlings. How we hope that they hold out long enough to see the outdoors!

The pepper seedlings are looking quite robust. No really…they do compared to the poor things from last year!
Things are looking very sparse now in the flowers/pepper tray. We’re hoping to get these seedlings out in a couple beds once the weather is better.
These tomato seedlings look okay, except for the spindliness and droopiness. But neither is too troubling yet. We know if we plant these seedlings deep enough, they should take off quite nicely.
The second tray of tomato seedlings looks much better. They’re ready for transplanting…but we have to wait on the weather for now.

 

Here we go again with more pictures of…dirt

One of the strange and potentially funny side effects of having a gardening blog is that we’ve ended up with an inordinate amount of pictures of dirt. Granted, it is usually dirt that’s brimming with newly-planted seeds, but really, it’s still dirt. There’s nothing wrong with that – it does show the process and all — but it’s still a little bit odd.

So how’s about that dirt?!

Well first, how about the reason for taking pictures of said dirt? It’s because we got around to planting seeds, that’s why! This past weekend, we enjoyed a really lovely and warm Saturday. It was followed by a much cooler Sunday, and by the looks of the forecast, things are going to remain on the cooler side for a bit. With that in mind, we knew we could plant seeds that could handle a slight dip in temps, such as lettuces, arugula, kale, spinach, and radishes.

Planting prep tip #1: identify what you want to plant. Easy peasy!

On something of a whim, we decided to include flowers and herbs, along with a few other surprises, because we now have a slightly different planting situation with two of the raised beds. Namely, we replaced the old, rotting boards with concrete blocks.

This is the “new and improved” raised bed #4.
And this is the “new and improved” raised bed #2. We can barely tell them apart, too.

The reason for including other seeds in the mix — flowers and herbs and such — is because of all the surrounding planting “spaces” that we now have thanks to the concrete blocks. In those spaces we wanted to place a variety of items that might repel rabbits, or if the rabbits happen to get curious, at least distract them from what’s actually in each bed. As we’ve said before, the keyword with the garden this year is experiment.

So, in raised bed #2 we placed two lettuce varieties, along with kale and spinach. In the outer planting “blocks,” we planted various flowers and herbs — basil, thyme, dill, and cilantro — in an alternating pattern. In raised bed #4 are two types of arugula, along with two other types of lettuce. Around the edges of this raised bed, we got a little crazy and planted not only flowers and herbs, but also radishes, carrots, and even onions! While we seem to have the best of luck with radishes, the same can’t be said of either carrots or onions, but with the deeper plots, we decided, what the heck! We had the seeds already — the onions we hadn’t bothered with for a couple years — so why not see if they happen to take?

Meanwhile, we also placed radish seeds in our two half-barrels.

Barrel #1 with Saxa II and Round Black Spanish radishes.
Barrel #2 with Malaga and White Hailstone radishes. …and an unknown volunteer plant that we were too curious about the get rid of.

So there you have it. Pictures of lots of dirt. But hopefully it’s dirt that will soon be full of little seedlings!

We’ll sign off here with two more pictures that we couldn’t resist taking. Remember the little volunteer broccoli bush from a couple weeks ago? Well, it’s gone perfectly gigantic!

It is literally growing up and out of the net cage!

We’re going to have to remove it when we redo this particular bed, which we use for peas and broccoli (haha), in concrete blocks, but for now, it’s pretty wild-looking. And it does have those nice, yellow flowers on it.

A similar thing happened to our asparagus stalks. Seemingly overnight, the stalks grew into small trees!

Our previous attempts at asparagus have also gone to seed, but not quite like this!

The garden is nothing if not a constant source of wonder. 🙂