Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stealing a picture from a friend

Well it's Thanksgiving and I do believe we should all contemplate what we should be thankful for even if this holiday is a very romanticized version of the pilgrims dinner.

I'm not in my garden her but at the farmer's market with my favorite produce guy Rick James. Normally this market is on Saturdays, but every Wednesday before Thanksgiving they sell turkeys and I buy one, this year an 18 and a 1/2 pound one. This turkey came from a local farm, Kennedy Farms . I get the majority of meat I eat from them.

I hope that everyone out there has a good holiday and that you attempt to eat food from your local farmers and small businesses. A lot of this holiday to me is about all the great food sources that the new world brought to the rest of the world.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Snowy Garden, sorta

First I've got a fine artichoke plant. This sprung back a little after the snow melted but eventually should die back more. I really think artichokes are beautiful plants. I will encourage people to grow these more around here.

One thing about artichokes is that there aren't many varieties available in the US. When I was trying to figure out what I could grow here I found that if I googled carciofo, which is the Italian word for artichoke that I found a lot of varieties. In the US there pretty much is just one grown and the seeds and plants were either the globe or a variety close to that. I'd love to find some of the longer, smaller and violets varieties. I bet that in the next few years this will change.

Another beauty, in my eyes is the leek. My god, look at that! I get so excited. I guess I'm weird but I love it.

This leek could end up in my turkey stuffing. I tend to use all of the leek. Some people just use the stem saying that the green leaves are bitter, but i haven't found this to be true.

Finally I show some roman chamomile after the snow melted. This is not the kind you use for tea, rather it is used for chamomile oil. I planted it as a ground cover thinking it would slowly cover the bare spots but it's been a monster expanding at a weedlike rate.

I've been intrigued by an Elizabethan custom of growing it on turf benches. Turf benches are made, I believe by layering sod. Roman chamomile was planted on top so that when you sat upon, it sweetened your bottom. Maybe next year I'll try this. It certainly grows fast enough.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Turkey Leek Fennel Wild Rice Soup

So the other week at my local farmer's market they had an extra turkey. I know it's early but I LOVE turkey so I got it, about 11 pounds maybe. I did the standard stuffing, but with some home grown leeks.

Here we have a gratuitous picture of leeks mixed with some other stuff from before the frost. I love leeks. I fell in love with them when I started my kitchen garde research and found Creative Vegetable Gardening: Accenting Your Vegetables With Flowers by Joy Larkcom. One place referenced by Larkcom and others is Villandry. Villandry is a chateau built during the Renaissance that was restored last century including a fabulous potager. Leeks and cabbages are pretty prominent in the squares.

I won't go in depth about it just now, but my aspirations are kinda like it. Visit their website, the design is just amazing if you haven't heard of it. So the leeks there were part of a square design I had that I let go a bit.

Anyhow, when I make turkey, I try to when the 1st meal is over to clean all the meaat off the bones. Then I put the bones in a huge pot of water with all the good stuff you need to make soupstock. Usually for poultry that includes celery and celery seed but in this case I threw in some fennel stalks with a bunch of fennel seeds left on. There's also as you may see some carrots and some parsley(not really visible. Anyway, I hope that that's a good self-portrait. This is simmered overnight which makes the house smell great.

The soup is delicious. If anyone shows an interest I might post my recipe.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kitchen Bulbs

Here's my kitchen window display.later 2 then even later 3. OK, the window
First there is one bulb, later 2 then even later 3. OK, the window I am having a really hard time editing this. I want to post these pictures sequentially and to have my words go a certain way but I can't see what is going on until after I publish it.

I want quite simply to have the picture with 0ne bulb 1st, 2 second and 3 third.

Right, so where are they? I can't see in this weird window that is almost twice as wide as it is when finally published that gives me just 2 inches or maybe 15 lines of typing to look at and not even a complete image.

What the eF guys? Well anyway, notice how quickly these paperwhites grow. The roots don't take long to fill out. I am guessing that these probably won't last up to Xmas but they'll probably bloom Thanksgiving.

These pictures also give you a tiny glimpse of my backyard and the burning bush shedding its leaves. I'll show more of it later but only in a way that allows a fantasy idea, no messes back there, nope, not for you to see!

I think instead of starting a new post later, I'll just add more pictures here with links from whatever current post I do. I'm sure there's people out there who'd like to see my paperwhites bloom.

Hmm, this last photo is a little blurry but there they are. A bud is opening. Also the tallest one fell over so I ended up tethering it to the strings with some breadbag ties.

I will have some blooms by Thanksgiving. I posted the 4th photo on the 25th.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Artichoke Blooms

These photos are not admittedly not current. They are from late summer. I think that they are 2 different blooms photographed the same day. The 1st flower is just starting to open, the 2nd is in full flower.

I did eat a couple artichokes but I wanted to see them flower and they are really big and pretty. Butterflies love them. I watched monarchs dip their proboscis into one repeatedly, quite deeply, kinda sexy actually. We all know about the birds and the bees right?

Speaking of bees, I managed to get this picture of a bumblebee in a similar state of ecstasy. Really, these pollinators just look overjoyed when they find some sweet flowers.

You don't see artichokes growing around Pittsburgh very much. They don't usually winter here so I will most likely have to dig them up in a little bit before it gets too cold. I have 4 plants in my front yard right now and only 2 have actually bloomed. I got them from Mountain Valley Growers. They were most likely offsets from a mother plant because artichokes usually do not bloom their 1st year. The other 2 plants came from home depot where they were mislabeled asparagus. I m assuming that those were from seed. If I save them they should bloom next year.

I think they are well worth it and I'd love to see more of these around. Aren't they beautiful?

The plant itself gets huge and takes up 4 feet of space. I overplanted these guys like everything else but I don't think they suffered for it. I think next year I'll give them more room. I'll probably mail one or 2 of these plants to my sister down south who actually has the space and the warmth to grow these properly.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fall Veggies

This is the only radicchio to survive the repeated ground hog attacks. It seems to be forming a nice head now.

It is pretty yes? We'll see how I end up eating it. I must look at recipes. Any ideas out there?

I have had it with something or other that was pretty good, but it is a veggie that I still have had little experience with.

Next we have some giant red mustard. This stuff has some spicy kick when raw, but cooked is very nice indeed. The other night we had some turkey sausage with mustard greens. delicious!

The dead twigs overhanging it is the mother plant. I started with one and though I ate a good bit of it, I let it go to seed. There were hundreds of seedlings which I still am thinning. I highly recommend red mustard.

Finally we have a black radish. You cant tell from the picture but this is as big as a softball. I googled recipes for this thing and the most appealing to me is peel, slice them thin, salt a bit poor some beer. Eat slice, take sip.

Supposedly they are good for your thyroid. They also tend to taste better when they've been sitting around for a while, not harvested right away.

I still have some other things to eat out there such as parsley, kale and cilantro. I have some fennel that sprouted new shoots that I hope will become big bulbs.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs

In a previous post (see lightbulbs) I showed my idea using hyacinths, here you see the same concept with paperwhite narcissus. It is again, the plastic packaging used for fluorescent lightbulbs. I discovered that there is a tiny vent hole that should but plugged up if you do this. I used a waterproof clear glue.

Paperwhites require no chill time so perhaps I should have experi- mented with them 1st but anyway, here's one. I intend to add a new bulb each week so that in theory they will bloom over a more extended time period.

In the background is a burning bush shedding it's leaves.

Next is my right foot and left hand. I'm wearing lime green gardening gloves that I got at Tuesday Morning for 6 bucks. I guess that they are some remaindered brand.

My preferred gloves are actually Atlas Nitrile Gloves which retail for about 7 dollars as I am typing this. There are currently very few places locally that sell them. Michaels Bros Nursery does. I have seen nitrile gloves sold at auto parts stores, but only in men's sizes. I personally have small hands. Online they are available at Nichols Garden Nursery.

Why are they THE gardening glove? They just are.

On my right foot is a gardening clog I got at Target or pretty cheap. They aren't my favorite. My favorite are Muck Boots. Muck Boots are nice because they are breathable and waterproof which is important especially when it's hot but they aren't cheap. I bought a few pairs of cheap clogs just so I can rotate them and also for just working in my own yard.

I decided to plant some bulbs because they are deeply discounted now. I have a small strip of green on the street which I have for the past year been encouraging with any low growing plant other than grass and annoying weeds. The result is mostly clover with a little yarrow(I think). I think my neighbors will enjoy seeing flowers poking out there next spring so I planted crocuses in small clumps and because I love danger, there's also some ice follies narcissus. Hopefully they won't get trampled.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


This is the 1st thing I see in the morning. That's a lemon rose geranium that lived outside when it was still warm.

I love scented geraniums. They were really popular about 100 years ago but could I imagine see a resurgence.

In the book, A History of Kitchen Gardening by Susan Campbell, she describes how fresh apples were placed in baskets lined with rose geranium leaves. That by the way is a pretty cool book. It tells of old greenhouses heated many ways including by hot composting manure!

Next we have some lemongrass, which also lives outside when it's warm. I really have enjoyed this. It's beautiful and grows fast. Below it I planted he shou wu, which was an impulse buy. I guess it's pretty neat but I don't love it.

The cat pictured below likes to eat this lemongrass, now that I've moved it inside. I just started some wheatgrass for him to munch on. I think he sorta likes doing things that he knows will annoy me.
I started this post when there was way too much going on for me to finish it. Not that it really matters but I usually have a general idea or a post, usually based, since I do want this to have lots of eye candy, on a photo or 2 or 3. So I post the photos then I edit my post.

I can't see what it actually looks like until after I publish it which is annoying. I mean, I am a visually oriented person, this is true for my gardens and it's true of this blog, I'm picky.

So the final picture here is me not really awake holding Abe who obviously wants me to put him down, which I did. In the background are some tomato plants that I really should dispose of but haven't yet.

You have an idea of what I see every morning. The lemongrass has had a few blades dangerously dangling over my bed so I've trimmed them, but it's nice feeling like I am living in a benevolent jungle. It's one of my pleasures.

I'm going to add one more thought. My last post was before our election and I am really happy that Obama won the election. I hesitate to say anything political but I suspect that most people with my gardening lean are left of center, though if anything, Obama is more of a return to center rather than a turn to the left.

I won't argue with anyone about this but one thing that drove me crazy in my landscaping past is the conservative wealthy people I dealt with, not that they were mean, but they just seemed so removed from LIVING. I had some stepford wives, you know what I mean?

This is why I should only talk about happy, non controversial things, and landscaping. But since on this post I've already dug myself a hole, I'll refer you folks to an article by Michael Pollan, Dear Mr. President-Elect, I am warning you that this article is 9 pages but I think I agree with it. It was published almost a month before the election so it could be to either McCain or Obama, though I have only heard Obama acknowledge reading it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

My checkered past

So what did I do before this?

Lots of things.

I'll talk about these 2 pictures 1st. These 3 steps shows just some of the seedlings I started with this past May.

Some of these seedlings went to other gardens but I do overplant. Just glancing at this I see a few that perished. Some due to my negligence, others for other reasons.

I had some catmint, a relative to catnip, that perished from a certain orange cat nipping at it. The same neighborhood cat I believe killed a cardinal chick in my tree hydrangea. For some reason my gray cat has befriended 'Orangy' while fighting with just about any other cat in the neighborhood. Orangy also liked to use one of my beds as a litterbox. I had to make a 'tiger trap' with skewers to keep her(?) out. But I digress.

So anyway, the 2nd picture shows a bed planted with red cabbage, lettuce, ocean sorbet pansies, and some tulips. There's also some onions.

Inspiration for this kind of planting comes from Joy Larkcom's book
Creative Vegetable Gardening: Accenting Your Vegetables With Flowers. This book was my introduction to Larkcom. I have since discovered that perhaps she should be as famous as Michael Pollan. Really, she is one of my heroes.

I truly believe that vegetables and flowers need not be separated. There are many reasons for this. Another proponent of this philosophy is Edward C. Smith. I learned a lot from his book
The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, a pretentious title from a non-pretentious man. One observation he made is that often plants that grow well together taste well together.

Didn't I say that I was going to talk about myself? Oh yeah, so here's a picture of me from this past May, shoveling compost from my truck to my garden.

I signed up for google analytics and found that finally somebody searched and hit this blog, which has had about 30 unique visitors. This was somebody in Beverly Hills, California! But they searched on my name!

Oh no! I have 2 guesses as to the identity of said person, but that could reveal my checkered past. I'll let you uninformed readers imagine something more interesting than reality.

I grew up 1 generation removed from a farm in South Dakota, 2 generations from Europe of 3 of my 4 grandparents. My father was a mathematician at the University of Pittsburgh, a bit of a leap from a dirt farm, my mother mostly a housewife, also from a South Dakota farm.

I have been to college but dropped out to work on archaeological digs in the lower 48. I've worked in more than a dozen states, mostly NE, but also New Mexico, California, and Oregon. My work as a field tech (shovel bum) spanned 15 years off and on, perhaps more off than on but it was pretty cool.

For 2 years straight I was a bicycle messenger in Pittsburgh, which included 2 winters. This was a blast but pretty crazy. If you think being a messenger is easy I've got a few bridges here to sell you.

After that, I landscaped for a very small company for some of the wealthiest people in Pittsburgh. I worked for this place for 2 years before I decided I'd be better off striking it out on my own. Plus I also decided that I wanted to try to get people to do something a little different from the standard stuff.

I think it's about time for people to rethink their yards. So there you have it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Last Photos before the frost

I am posting these pictures at random. I will admit that I increased the saturation of these images because they just look more luscious.

The 1st is a purple tomatillo that was sent to me instead of some pepper I ordered. It did not set fruit until just a few weeks ago which irritated me greatly. Maye it's just me but it just might not be a great crop for my Pittsburgh climate. I also was greatly irritated by my pineapple sage's reluctance to bloom until a few weeks ago. I think I won't bother with either next year.
Next we have cardoon, a close relative to the artichoke. It is the plant in the pot in the center. I guess I posted this picture to give you an idea of how chaotic my garden 'plan' is. Anyway, I ate some of this cardoon twice this summer. The 1st time it was OK, but the 2nd it seemed bitter. I don't get it I guess. I mean, kale and other stuff is easier.

The dark green foliage cascading down my step is a holy mole pepper plant. I got this as a 4 pack from Michaels Bros and it performed really well. I only harvested 2 really ripe peppers from it but the green one I got were plentiful, quite long, flavorful, and just a little spicy. They were wonderful stuffed with sausage though these guys are skinny so stuffing them was harder than most peppers.

Here's a cross section of one of these ripe holy mole peppers without benefit of saturation, no cheating here, just to show how pretty they are. Perhaps if I had gotten them in the ground earlier they would have ripened earlier.

Honestly, this past season I got a late start. I had to clear away a lot of weeds and english ivy before I could plant things. So the mole plant sorta survived 2 frosts, but I don't think I'll be getting anymore peppers from it.
Next we have some good stuff on my chopping block. My garden could loosely be called a 'kitchen garden'. I frequently step outside and grab a bit of this and some of that. Some of this in this instance is dinosaur kale, lacinato kale(same thing) that is looking good post-frost, some cinnamon basil, all killed, and red mustard, very nice and very spicy.

I sometimes use recipes. Sometimes I wish I used recipes but often what I make is just fine.