Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Inattentive Gardener Experiment

I'm trying a new experiment this year - what I'm calling the no records, no special attention version of seed starting.

At first, this was unintentional. I planted tomato and pepper seeds in reused flats, but I didn't have my stash of reused plant markers on hand to write the types of seeds planted in each row. Then I went away of vacation for a week and then tried to catch up on all the work I'd missed for another week - the seed tray was still on the kitchen table, unlabeled and unwatered. To my surprise, after three weeks of utter neglect, the tomatoes had sprouted!

Taking this as a good sign, I then planted another tray of seeds, also that I didn't bother to label. But this time, I moved the trays to the sunny but unheated front porch. I know that gardening books say to use supplemental lighting and keep the temperature reasonably warm (or quite warm if you want your pepper seeds to germinate) - but I thought I'd like to find out if seedlings can handle the microclimate and sunlight levels on the porch, without needing extra energy.

Little bits of green

I'm hoping that with a few years of experience gardening under my belt, I'll be able to identify the seedlings when they are ready to plant outside; last year, I confused some cucumbers seedlings for squash and ended up with a funny-looking squash patch.

If my inattentive seed-starting experiment works, it's a frugal success story. It it doesn't and I end up with spindly, leggy seedlings, then I'll know better for next time.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Signs of Spring

Red-winged blackbirds congregating in the branches of oak trees, our neighbors raking leaves, ducks pairing up on the lakes, and a little girl dressed up in an pastel-colored Easter dress, heavy wool sweater and bare feet - all these things tell me that it's spring.

Spring is an optimistic time of year all on its own, but this year, I feel a jolt of extra enthusiasm when I go to check out the garden. We started on the yard and garden four years ago, and had our work cut out for us, tearing out a dozen years' worth of neglect and overgrowth. Our work is ongoing - we'd like to build a set of stone steps on the far side of the house, we need to continue cutting out old stems from the  lilac hedge, and there's that pesky front garden bed next to the porch that offers no easy planting plan.

However, when I go outside these days, I'm not thinking how much work remains to be done...

I'm thinking about how well the daffodils have spread over the past few years,

how nicely these little lilac root sprouts have taken to the hillside,

how glad I am that the ground warms up faster in raised beds, 

how thankful I am that spring has come again.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Last of the Dark Days

March 31st marked the end of the 2012 Dark Days Challenge. March was a tricky month for local eating, due to travel plans, work demands, and the onion box running low in the pantry. This weekend, I grabbed the very last yellow onion to throw together a quick lunch - my final Dark Days meal.

Pasta from the freezer, canned tomatoes and tomato puree and a yellow onion from the pantry, and a chunk of butter out of the fridge - that's all you need for a hot and simple pasta-with-red-sauce lunch.

Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen's version of Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking"

Dump a quart of canned tomatoes and a pint of thick tomato puree in a pot.
Drop in one half of a halved onion and a few tablespoons (3-5) of butter.
Heat up the sauce to a boil and then let simmer for 20-30 minutes.
Break up some of the tomatoes into more appealing chunks.
Spoon over just-cooked, still-warm pasta.

It's so good that we ate every bite before it crossed our minds to take a photo. Then, we were too eager to get back outside to do yard work to take a photo of our empty bowls. Spring is a good time - full of new energy and enthusiasm for any bit of green or glimpse of spring migrants.

Here's to the end of Dark Days, and to the start of the gardening season!