Category Archives: Lessons Learned

An Important Announcement About Gardening

I was getting all ready to start putting together posts about our recent awesome vacation in Dallas, but then something amazing happened that is putting the organization of our (kick-ass) pictures on hold. Look at this:

Inadvertent Harvest

Dozens of frying peppers, ranging from zesty green to sweet red! Buckets of spicy purple peppers! A surprising handful of basil! And underneath that all, quarts of fresh tomatillos! This was what we shook off the plants in our garden today when we started in on the end-of-season plant removal from the beds. This is a garden that we have literally been neglecting for the last six weeks. Literally. We haven’t watered, or trimmed, or weeded, or pruned, or anything. We walked away, and when we came back, this stuff was waiting for us.

Tomatillos

Perhaps even more significantly, we hadn’t even planted tomatillos this year. Or the year before. Or the year before that. They just sprung up out of the dirt, and because we were neglecting the garden, they were perfectly content just to hum along bearing fruit with nary a care in the world. And this leads me to an important announcement: apparently you can do literally nothing and still successfully grow vegetables. Whenever I hear someone remark that gardening is difficult, or that we have some kind of special skills or wizardry to draw the bounteous bounty from our front yard, my response tends to be “pish posh! I have no idea what I’m doing, and it still works!” But here is proof. If you have dirt and you introduce — in any way at all, even in theoretically inert seeds from years-old compost — vegetable plants to that dirt, you can garden. Nature just wants shit to grow, you know?

[Posted by Schnookie]

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Filed under Bonanza!, Garden, Harvested, Lessons Learned, We Grew This

Our Previous, Pathetic Life

A few days ago we decided to organize our old photos and upload them into flickr, where we can enjoy them more. To our delight, we stumbled onto scads of pictures of our first house, the home we bought long before Maple Hoo was even a gleam in our eyes.

It was a relatively affordable townhouse made less affordable than we originally thought thanks to ridonkulous HOA fees. It was also a quiet little townhouse made lass quiet than we originally thought thanks to being tucked right under an I-95 off-ramp. And it was a delightfully yardwork-free house made less delightful over the months after moving in when we realized our belief that we didn’t want a yard was maybe just a bit misplaced.

You see, we’ve never been yard people. At all. Before buying our first house we lived in a rental in downtown Princeton that had a little spit of weeds in the backyard; we let everything become grotesquely overgrown during the summertime, and then would spend many miserable hours in the merciless heat trying to wrest the weedy patch into submission. That, as far as we knew, was yardwork. And it sucked. So when we were in the market for a house, we were thrilled to find this backyard:

And here, the full vista view to the other corner of the fence:

When we felt a hankering to grow things, our approach was to force the bulbs that Boomer liked to send us as gifts.

Here’s a look at the pre-Maple Hoo at its fullest bloom:

And here’s what the “orchard” there looked like — our two potted lemon trees, in the one bit of sunshine at our otherwise north-facing house.

We lived there for about 20 months before moving on to Maple Hoo, and during that time we thought we’d learned two important things about how we wanted to live: we wanted windows on all four sides of the house and we wanted a yard that looks like a yard. So when we found this yard, we pounced:

And as soon as we started thinking of this house as our own, we found ourselves thinking of putting in a garden. The notion came out of nowhere. The house just demanded it, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Literally the very first thing we did after closing was plant garlic in a bed next to the garage. We were hooked from day one.

One of the things we’ve discovered in our shallow forays into the gardening blogosphere is that so many people who love gardening grew up around gardens. They tell stories of learning about how to plant their grandparents’ favorite flowers just so, or how their parents grew unique varieties of vegetables that they remembered from their own grandparents’ gardens, or whatever. We come from the kind of family that encourages buying townhouses with entirely paved-over backyards. And yet… we’ve become ardent gardeners. The moral of our story? Growing plants really isn’t that hard. You can start from zero and still find great success. The fact is, Nature really wants plants to grow — our motto for our garden is “Let’s put shit in the ground and see what happens”, and you know what? It works.

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Filed under Garden, Lessons Learned

The Great Garlic Taste Test Of ’08

Now that the entire garlic crop has been picked and cured, it’s time to tackle that most onerous task: figuring out which one tastes best. The three contenders in today’s battle are, in no particular order:

Persian Star

Chesnok Red

German White

The methodology was as follows:

We were going to test the flavors of the three garlics in three settings — rubbed raw on toast, roasted and spread on bread, and raw in a simple bruschetta treatment. Each type was handled with uncontaminated utensils, and they were eaten in a random, blind test.

The Persian Star had a small head with about a dozen teensy cloves. The skins of the cloves were a lovely purply red, but they were a total pain in the ass to handle. I don’t have a lot of patience with wee garlic cloves.

The Chesnok Red was basically exactly like the Persian Star. Again with the wee tiny cloves. Again with the eye-rolling and me grumbling, “This better not taste that good.”

The German White, though, was much more my speed: big cloves (but not very many of them in the head), easy to peel, basically a dream to handle.

The processing was fairly simple for this test. I toasted some slices of bread with a little olive oil for the raw-rubbed test, nestled a few cloves of each in some tin foil and drizzled them with olive oil before roasting for the roasted-and-smeared test, and stirred together some finely diced Black Plum tomatoes (from our garden), the finely minced garlic, a pinch of chiffonaded fresh basil (from our garden), and a healthy drizzle of olive oil for the bruschetta test.

Then we hunkered down for some serious bread consumption.

For the raw-garlic-rubbed-on-olive-oiled-toasts test, we ended up liking the three almost equally. We started with the German White, and felt it had “a mild, not very forward flavor” and was “complimentary”, “a team player”. The Persian Star was “more garlicky”, “sharper and sweeter”, had “a flavor that lingers”, but was “more raw-tasting” and was “asking for something else” to go with it. The Chesnok Red was our winner, by a nose, for being “a garlic-lover’s garlic” and “very strong”. In a very close vote, we decided the German White was the second best, and the Persian Star brought up the rear.

The roasted-and-smeared-on-bread test was next, and the Persian Star led things off by having a flavor “where ‘sweet’ and ‘rich’ meet”; we struggled to verbalize exactly what the flavor reminded us of, ultimately agreeing it tasted like the texture of tomato paste. It had no sharp garlic aftertaste. The Chesnok Red was up next and was “a total loser”. It tasted “like if garlic and tap water were combined”. Third was the German White, “delicious”, “light and airy”, “gardeny”, “full but not heavy — tastes like spring green”, and was fresh-tasting even when roasted. The clear winner was the German White, with the Persian Star a modest second and the Chesnok Red a crushing disappointment.

The bruschetta test was led off by the Chesnok Red, which saw a strong rebound from its failures as a roaster. It “tied the flavors together nicely”, “never tasted like raw garlic”, and was “a good team player’. The Persian Star was next and was “not as peppery as [the Chesnok], more buttery” but also “almost overpowers the tomato flavor”. The German White was the last up, and had a “warm finish” with “no sharpness”, “plays beautifully with the basil” and got the rave “all four flavors [in the tomato mixture] work together the best”. We voted the Chesnok Red our favorite in this round, narrowly edging out the German White, with the Persian Star coming up short.

Overall, even though the Chesnok Red won two of the three tests, we liked the German White best overall. The failure of the Chesnok to roast well was a damaging blow to its overall standings. The Persian Star, while delicious in its own right, wasn’t a winner in any category and had teensy cloves that are impossible to peel. So there you have it: German White it is. In fact, we just placed our order with Seeds of Change for oodles of it for next year.

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Filed under 7. July, Garden, Harvested, Lessons Learned, Taste Test, We Grew This

The Garlicky Fruits Of Spring

The other day Pookie emailed me at work to say, “Check out this link — we need to investigate this green garlic thing!” I proceeded to spend a delightful afternoon reading the rest of Farmgirl Susan’s wonderful blog, and then Pookie and I hatched plans to double-plant our garlic bed next year so we could have bundles of green garlic in the Spring. Meanwhile, our regularly-planted garlic bed was taunting us with its massive stalks of allegedly delicious early-season green delicacy.

That stuff is huge! It could feed a family of three like ours for months! We were oh-so-tempted to pull up just one stalk, just to see what it would taste like… and then it came to us, like a bolt from the blue. The previous owners of our house had made a half-assed effort to put in an raised bed for a veggie garden behind the garage, where it wouldn’t be an “eyesore” but also doesn’t get a ton of sun. When we put our grape vines back there, we noticed there were a few little plastic tags from nursery plants in the soil, from a couple of tomatoes and, surprisingly, some garlic. The soil in the bed is too clay-y for the heads to develop, but last Spring we availed ourselves of the scapes from the second generation of garlics coming up in the bed. This spring? We were going to help ourselves to the green garlic instead of waiting on the scapes.

Thank you, previous homeowners! This was so exciting — a new delicacy!

I decided to prepare it basically exactly the way Farmgirl Susan recommended, sauteing the finely-chopped garlic in a fair deal of butter until it’s soft, then tossing it with pasta, salt, freshly ground pepper, and, in my case, a splash of olive oil. I also added some ribbons of prosciutto, then shaved some Parmagiano-Reggiano on top. What we ended up with has some serious potential.

The green garlic was so light and freshly garlicky, without any mature garlic harshness. However, I really didn’t have enough of it to go with as much pasta as I was cooking. So next year, when we plant tons of garlic, this is going to be awesome. I can’t wait!

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Filed under 5. May, Carbo Loading, Garden, Harvested, Lessons Learned, We Grew This

Lessons Learned #1

Dear Gentlewoman Farmer Pookie In The Future,

This is Gentlewoman Farmer Pookie Of The Past, here, giving you some gardening advice. You should be reading this letter in January. It’s cold out, the garden beds are all covered over in straw. You’ve been nose-deep in the Seeds of Change, Sand Hill Preservation, and Seed Savers Exchange catalogs for weeks. You’re starting to get antsy to plant some stuff but if you’re anything like I was this year, you’re going to rein yourself in. You’re going to be dreaming of fresh, crisp Spring lettuce but you’re going to say, “But it’s too early! It’s too cold!” NO! No it isn’t!

Look at this:

Isn’t it beautiful? This is what image has been dancing around your head, right? A cute little bright green Butterking lettuce head growing bigger and tastier every day. Looks great, right?

Wrong.

Because I waited too late, because I was scared of a little thing called “before the last frost”, the rest of the lettuce looks like this:

It’s May. And all there is is dirt. Dirt, dirt everywhere.

What I’m trying to say is PLANT YOUR LETTUCE EARLIER. I could be earmarking next weekend for an early Spring greens salad, but nooo-OOO-ooo. I’m going to be eating a bowl full of dirt. Don’t be like me. Put those lettuce seeds in as soon as the soil can be worked. You won’t regret it.

Hugs and Kisses,
Gentlewoman Farmer Pookie Of The Past

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Filed under Garden, Lessons Learned