Sunday, August 9, 2009

I love August

This is a Bulgarian carrot chili pepper -
hopefully it will turn orange!

I can tell it's spicy because no insects have tried to eat it.

I may actually have to water my garden this week... there are thunderstorms predicted but it really hasn't rained for a full week! And it's nice outside during the day and cools off at night - it's just so great.

A quick list about this August -
1. realized it's really shady in both new vegetable gardens... whoops... no wonder my tomato plants are stunted.
2. peppers grow really well in pots. so do tomatoes - 3 have been transplanted to pots on the front steps and are no longer languishing in the shade.
3. green bean vines can grow inches in a single sunny warm day!
4. all cilantro eventually bolts... even the long-lasting varieties.
5. next Sunday marks 8 weeks until the average first frost in this region - talk about a short summer.

I'm going to try to direct-sow some greens this week for fall harvest... it would be nice to have some arugula again.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

After the Bolt...

Just a short post today -
I wanted to share what arugula flowers look like. I think that they resemble pinwheels.

I could tell that my arugula and spinach were on the verge of bolting, and I felt bad tearing them out of the garden when they looked so vigorous. At some point, I will need to pull them and plant the next round of seeds (something warm-weather-loving, I hope)... but until it stops raining, I'm going to remain a weak-willed gardener and see what arugula looks like when it goes to seed!

Despite continuing wet, cool weather, the zucchini sprouts continue to grow bit by bit. I'm surprised by that, as I consider zucchini the ultimate hot summer weather plant. I also realized that I think I confused mixed up some seedlings that I started inside because the cucumber flowers seem very squash-like. I'll post a "name this seedling" quiz soon!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recipe: Arugula Omelet

I must say that I enjoy gardening almost as much as I enjoy eating... but eating does win out because gardening has time limits (i.e., daylight hours) and eating can be done at any time. When gardening and eating combine, it's really a wonderful thing.

Adam and I got to enjoy the first harvest from the garden on Tuesday. Concerned that the arugula was going to bolt once it stopped raining, I had picked most of it on the weekend, but had lost motivation to clean and cook with it. On Tuesday, we had run out of leftovers and needed something quick and easy using what we could dig out of the fridge --

thus - Adam cooked omelets with arugula, Swiss cheese, and mushrooms. (Adam's also had red onion.) I had forgotten how green-tasting arugula is - for looking a lot like spinach, the flavor is really quite different. I think it really tastes like eating a leaf, generally mild but leaving that little taste of bitter on the tongue.

Anyway, the omelets were so good that I failed to take a photo before consumption; I thought about it after the fact.

The recipe is something similar to the list below - as Adam did the cooking, I can't say for sure...
Eggs - whisk together
Mushrooms and red onion - slice very thinly
Swiss cheese - sliced from the deli, preferably
Arugula - wash, remove lower stems (below the leafy part), leave leaves intact

Pour eggs in pan, layer cheese and vegetables, and cook like an omelet.
Key to this recipe is layer the arugula in a thick layer, like it's the lettuce on a sandwich. That way, you get a lot of arugula with every bite.
Really, this is an arugula dish with a little bit of cheese and egg to hold things together. And it was fantastic.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Dark Days of Rain

I was so excited in April and May - weeks of gorgeous sunny days, even getting up into the 80's a couple of days. We moved our bedroom downstairs to the sleeping porch two months ago, and it was so lovely to sleep with the windows open. My gardens were thriving; even the hydrangea that I left in a garbage bag for 5 days before transplanting managed to put out some flower buds (whoops - not a recommended practice.) And the rhododendron that I thought might curl up and die actually put out new leaves. And the little squeaky cockeyed optimist in my head chirped, "This summer will surely be a warm, sunny, summery season"...

And all that hope and good will and early planting for nothing - June is rainy and cold... it's been raining every day for a solid week!

The pea plants love the cool, wet weather, although I'd really like to see them start flowering. The pole bean seeds soaked up enough water to sprout vigorously, and the snapdragons and dianthus don't care what the weather does - they just keep blooming. (Mental note to buy more snapdragons next year!)

But the daisies have been beaten down, the lettuce is covered with dirt, and my cucumber seeds show no signs of sprouting. The marigolds look sad and sluggy, the squash is turning yellow (the leaves, not the fruit), and the rest of the garden looks lethargic at best. This is a demoralizing time. This is a time when I wonder how the local farmstand can possibly be starting to harvest their greenhouse tomatoes, and why I bother to grow in marginal soil with marginal sunlight when I can just go to the farmers' market... and plenty of other depressing thoughts that make me want to throw in the spade and spend my time in some more rewarding endeavor (model rockets? writing the great American novel?).

This past week is a test of my little internal optimist's patience because most plants don't grow quickly in cool weather. The daytime high's have been in the upper 50's or low 60's - I've worn sweaters every day this week. How can I expect my hot-weather tomatoes and peppers to do anything, if I'm shivering without a jacket? If I can just hold out long enough until the skies clear... then I'll have a moment of sheer bliss before I go out into the garden and find something else to complain about!

I don't think the daisies will ever stand straight again, but this is what they looked like before the rains came!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Between a Rock and ... Another Rock

In New Hampshire, we take rocks for granted. The glaciers scoured off all the topsoil 10,000 years ago, and ever since then, rocks have dominated the Granite State. While the landcover of New Hampshire has changed from 15% forested a century ago to 85% forested today, the rocks remain a very solid part of the landscape.

You can't dig a pit, a trench, or even a small hole with a trowel without turning over a rocky fragment. Actually, digging is not required - just shuffle around the lawn in bare feet and I can guarantee that you strike it rich in rocks.

What this means for new gardeners like me is that it takes a LONG time to dig a new garden bed. Anyone can anticipate that digging a garden bed involves using a shovel. Even Michelle Obama used a shovel for her kitchen garden photo op in March 2009, and the schoolkids who helped out got shovel-shaped cookies and apple cider (check out a detailed WSJ blog post with photo)

However, the excavation that is required when digging a garden bed in New Hampshire is more suited to hydraulic tools and a large lumberjack-looking fellow with a crowbar. Unfortunately, neither of those happened to be on hand when I was digging beds this past month. This is why it took me an hour and half and all of my good humor to dig a 6.5-ft-long, 1-ft-wide, 18-in-deep trench for 5 scraggly asparagus crowns. Even though asparagus is the best green thing since Kermit the Frog, I'm in no hurry to dig another trench any time soon.

I may have underanticipated the rockwork involved in digging a garden, but I try not to take the granite for granted. Rocks are excellent for building stone walls, lining garden beds, throwing to a certain yellow Lab, and also creating alpine and Zen gardens. Just look at the fruits of excavation now attractively arranged in our rock garden!

The tags make the rock garden plants stand out more.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Gardening Season Begins?

Gardening season does not have a start date. If you are a gardener, whether you live in the tropics or the Arctic, you garden all year long. Gardening season is a state of mind, not two days X'ed out on the kitchen calendar.

True, there may be that first day when you can see the chives poking out of the residual snow and ice, and immediately you crouch down and brushing away the ice and dead leaves. The green spikes and their sharp oniony tang is a wake-up call to that part of you that went dormant during the winter.

But that day is in sometime in the beginning of April - I can't remember exactly - because New Hampshire is still in the throes of mud season. This "fifth" season is aptly named because it is essentially a 6-week-long mud wrestling match between winter and spring. Not pretty to behold, potentially damaging, and really, what's the use of it? The only benefit I can see that mud season provides is that the weather is so inhospitable that it offers plenty of time for a gardener to start seeds and, more importantly, start dreaming in full, bright Technicolor about what the garden will look like in a few months.

Gardening journals tell you to wait to play in your garden until the ground is dry enough to work... to me, that shows the true impatience of gardeners in spring. We just can't wait to put all of our new garden ideas into the ground and see what sprouts. This urge is especially irresistible when the daytime high gets above 50 degrees and there's a beautiful yellow sun in a clear blue sky. The first week that the local garden and farm stand opened, I was there to buy pansies. So what if the temperature was supposed to be below 20 degrees every night for the next week? (Not that the pansy plants would die, but the blooming flowers wouldn't survive heavy frosts.)

I did hold off on planting those pansies for another two weeks, partly because I was so overwhelmed with the urge to buy and plant flowers that I hadn't even decided where I would put these eight tiny specimens of "Sorbet Mix" pansies. The other part was that last fall, I decided that raking up leaves was not worth the effort; this spring, I decided that was a bad decision. For the first 2 weeks in April, I raked leaves. Instead of planting peas and pansies, I raked the front lawn. Instead of digging new vegetable beds, I raked the leaves from the granite steps leading toward the planned vegetable bed site. Never again will I put off all the raking until the spring, because it might be summer by the time I get done with the raking this year.

This past weekend, I did manage to pull myself away from the rake and actually do some planting and digging. I've got big plans for this year, the second summer in our first home. We were fortunate enough to move into a wonderful bungalow with a completely neglected yard - not exactly a tabula rasa, but there's something so satisfying about tearing out the sparse lawn, culling the overgrown daylily population, and harshly pruning trees and shrubs.

Here's a brief summary of how the gardens look in my mind. In front of the house, there are peas growing up strings in between the foundation plantings (little Spiraea and Potentilla shrubs that we planted last spring). Between the house and the driveway, where Adam dug up the lawn for a vegetable garden last year, we'll have a annual/perennial flower garden with some salad greens thrown in there. New vegetable gardens are in the process of being dug up the hill next to the garage; the hillside leading up there will be part rock garden, part herb garden, part "anything-to-stabilize-this-slope." The shade garden on the other side of the house will get some plants other than comfrey and myrtle, and the lilac hedge will be thoroughly groomed. And I'll put in an asparagus bed... and I'll clear out all the wild blackberry canes... and I won't spend all of the free time in the garden. (Did I mention that I'm an optimist when it comes to gardening?)

This vision is the culmination of many months of planning, research, and daydreaming, and this process is at least as important if not more important that the actual planting. The year-round gardening that I do in my mind is not as strenuous as the digging, weeding, and planting I do from April through September, but it's a critical part of the gardening season.

(Sorry! I ran out of daylight before I could take any photos - check back soon for garden photos.)