Friday, February 24, 2012

Out like a lion?

I am fond of saying that February is the longest month of the year. Today the end of February is behaving more like the beginning of March, but with gray skies instead of scudding clouds in a sea of blue. The birds that I feed seem hungrier than usual - maybe the winter stores in the wild now have empty shelves. And those birds have started singing again. Bird song is one of those things you don't notice has been absent until it returns.

Even though it is not yet March, I decided to go ahead and try producing sweet potato slips. I did the usual - took a long, skinny sweet potato and broke it in half, poked three toothpicks into each at its new midsection, and settled each sweet potato butt into a cup of water.

No roots on the rosemary cuttings yet.

The reseeding of the onions is showing results. In fact, stirring the tops of the cells without sprouts caused some of the previously planted seeds to pop, so I may end up with more than 144 plants. That's okay - scallions!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cooking orgy

Yesterday I spent the bulk of the day on my feet in the kitchen, cooking up a storm:

Queso blanco cheese - recipe here - If you want to try making cheese, this is about as simple as it gets. All it takes is milk and vinegar. Although the recipe uses 1/4 c. of vinegar, I needed closer to 1/2 c. (and I used white distilled). I also let the milk get a little too hot, so the cheese has that cooked milk smell even though it tastes great.

Pioneer bread - I have made this before, recipe from The Bread Book by Linda Collister and Anthony Blake (sadly out of print). I did not have sunflower seeds, though, which while not crucial to producing a great bread, is a nice addition. Also, for liquid, I used the whey from the queso blanco.

Chili - For a change, I used dried beans, soaking the kidney beans overnight, then cooking them with four gloves of garlic and two teaspoons of epazote, an herb that reduces the musicality of beans. I also used up four pints of tomato juice from the freezer.

Baked apples - The recipe I use is from Student's Vegetarian Cookbook by Carole Raymond. Patrick brought ice cream to accompany the apples, but we were so full from the chili, bread, and cheese that we could not eat dessert.

Re gardening, I replanted some onion seeds in the cells where germination failed - still striving for a full square foot garden bed of 144 onions. I also snipped some new growth off the indoor rosemary plant, to try rooting cuttings. My big plant has become so rangy that I plan to severely prune it this summer, but I want some backup plants in case I accidentally kill it.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Little surprises

The onion seeds are germinating. I have been gardening off and on (mostly on) for almost 40 years, and I am still a bit surprised when seeds I plant actually sprout. It's a little miracle that I can't take for granted.

The one and only butternut squash to come out of my garden last summer was eaten last night. I plucked it from the vine way back when, even though it did not look quite ready, because I feared a frost that night. Then I left it to sit on the counter until it turned a nice buff color. The surprise came when I tried to peel it. Ordinarily, I do not peel butternut squash - it is just too difficult. But the recipe I was following demanded raw chunks of butternut squash, so peel I did. And the peel was so thin and tender I was able to accomplish this task with a carrot peeler, little effort required. Is all homegrown squash this easy to peel? I just could not believe it.

Tonight I consumed the second and final Meyer lemon. Like the squash, I had picked it a while ago and left it on the counter. Mid-February and - surprise! - it was still fresh as a daisy. It joined some of my homemade grenadine in a tequila sunrise. Okay, TWO tequila sunrises - it was a bad day at work. No surprise there!

Monday, February 06, 2012

And so it begins

Friday I was playing in the compost piles. Saturday I awoke to this:

A good portion of that wet sloppy snow is gone, but I'm sure the weather gods can stir up more if they so desire.

To combat all that winterness outside, I started onion plants inside.

I have not grown onions from seed for ages, so this will be an experiment. The reason for turning to seed is I have been unhappy with the selection of onion sets and unhappy with the results from the past few years. Of course, as soon as I ordered seeds for a variety called Copra, I received a seed catalog with an improved Copra called Cortland. *sigh*

Anyway, expecting to plant one square foot garden bed entirely with onions, I planted 144 seeds. (Nine plants per square foot times 16 square feet = 144, right?) The plan is to get them into the ground around April 1.

Friday, February 03, 2012


Here is evidence of the daffodils:

And some fungus under the forsythia:

Otherwise, the yard is still very dormant today. I dug around in the big compost piles, sifting some and turning most of the rest. What compost I did manage to glean went into the new raised beds.

I'm on the fence re square foot gardening "by the book". One is supposed to mix one's own potting soil, using peat moss, blended compost, and vermiculite. Finding vermiculite in anything other than small bags is difficult, and it is surprisingly expensive. I found some online at a better price, the the shipping was more than the vermiculite cost. Vermiculite is sometimes used as insulation (Menards carries it), but it is not clear to me if that is suitable for horticultural use. And then the amount of homemade potting soil needed to fill even one bed is a bit daunting to my pocketbook.

And yet, my soil is heavy clay, I have a major weed problem, and it would be wonderful to garden with something light and fluffy and at least initially weedfree, so the one-time expense seems worth it. I have a feeling I will probably mix square foot gardening with lasagna gardening, layering in newspaper, leaves, manure, etc. and topping it all with the special mix. Or I will make one or more batches but limit its use to the grow sacks, which at the end of the season can be dumped into the raised beds. Or...?

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Zoned out

According to the new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, I am now in zone 6a instead of 5b, but just barely. I'm not surprised, based on my experience the past few years with frost dates in both spring and fall. So I am going to be bolder about gardening earlier this year. In fact, I can hardly wait.

Yesterday I noticed daffodils poking through the ground on the south side of the West Wing. Crazy!