Thursday, March 25, 2010

New Life - Bush Beans

I am so excited. It finally happened. The seeds that I planted more than a week ago for the Blue Lake and Roc d'Or bush beans have finally sprouted. I was getting a little worried that they wouldn't germinate. Then suddenly, they started poking their little heads out of the soil. Crossing my fingers that I can grow them into nice healthy plants with a lot of beans on them.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Strawberry Clafouti

One of the many things that I love about spring is strawberries. I have been buying 3-packs of them for the last few weeks at the Pasadena Farmer's Market. However I have been stumped as to what do with all of them. Sure, strawberries and cream is great but I wanted something else. And, rhubarb is not yet in season. But, low and behold, I was saved from my strawberry conundrum by Sunset magazine. The April issued arrived a couple of days ago and much to my delight included a recipe for a strawberry clafouti. I know you are wondering what a clafouti is. It is this fabulous custardy cake with fruit that comes from the Limousin region of France. I did make a clafouti years ago with cherries but have never, till now, seen a recipe using strawberries. The recipe is very simple so I whipped it up last night for dessert. It was delicious. Give it a try.

Strawberry Clafouti
(from the April 2010 issue of Sunset magazine)

Serves 4 to 6
Time: Approximately 1 1/4 hours

8 oz. strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise
2 tsp. cornstarch
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
2/3 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. salt
Powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter a shallow 2-qt. baking or gratin dish. In a bowl, toss the strawberry halves with cornstarch until evenly coated, then arrange berries cut sides down in the bottom of the dish and set aside.

2. In a blender, whirl eggs, milk, flour, granulated sugar, vanilla and salt until smooth, about 15 seconds. Pour batter over strawberries.

3. Bake until puffed, golden brown, and set in the center, about 50 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring in the Garden - Part I

Spring has finally arrived and there are plenty of chores to do in the garden. One of the first things is harvesting some of our lettuce (Little Gem and Oak Leaf above). Then, we need to find a place to relocate the lettuce so that we can use that raised bed for tomatoes once the seedlings are ready to be transplanted. We're thinking of a railing box outside the back door. Might be our best option since it gets morning sun and will be protected from the afternoon heat.

I have been trying to keep up with succession planting of the veggies that we want to keep growing. These are some of the little sprouts for our next batch of arugula. We are also keeping the radishes, carrots (damn these take forever to grow), beets and chard.

Sure, they look like empty planters but looks can be deceiving. Hiding under all that nice soil and compost are seeds for some bush beans (Blue Lake and Roc d'Or). They should be germinating any day now. I have fantasies about growing enough of these beans so that I can pickle them. Learning to can is our next homesteading activity.

These are some of our soon to be seedlings for our tomatoes (9 varieties) and peppers (4 varieties). These should germinate within the next week or so. I am hoping to start transplanting them at the end of April so that we can have our first tomatoes in June.

Next up, finding a place to grow our squashes (summer and winter). We are thinking of tearing out the roses in the front yard and using that bed. Our only concern is the neighbors. We're hoping that they won't start helping themselves to veggies.

Ella in the Garden

I know! I know! It's a picture of a dog...our standard poodle, Ella, to be exact. But, I could not resist since it is one of the few good pictures that we have of her. She hates getting her picture taken almost as much as I do (and that is saying something). Plus, she's a great garden dog because she doesn't dig and she helps (a little bit) to keep the squirrels under control. 

The Last of the Meyer Lemons

I love Meyer Lemons, so it was a sad day last week when I finally harvested the last of them off of our dwarf tree. This was the first year that the little guy produced any lemons and we did pretty well with a total harvest of 19.

But as you can see, all is not lost. There are new buds on the branches and new leaves growing. We did a little spring feeding with some citrus fertilizer (E.B. Stone) and are hoping to see some little lemons starting in another month or so. But, patience is a virtue and we will have to wait till late fall or early winter for another crop. Or maybe, we will get very lucky and we will get a second crop in the summer. Time will tell.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bring Your Own -- Reusable Produce Bags

We all know that plastic shopping bags are an environmental nightmare. But, what no one ever mentions in that conversation is plastic produce bags. It's all about the shopping bag. However, people use a lot produce bags when they go to the market, even if it is a farmers market. So, not long ago, I realized that I needed to stop using plastic produce bags and find a reusable alternative. I bring my own shopping bags everywhere, so why not produce bags. So, thanks to a little bit of online research, I found these great reusable produce bags at Eco-Bags

Eco-Bags has been around since 1989 and their mission it to reduce waste. It all started with reusable shopping bags but their business has grown to include lunch bags, produce bags, waters and more. So, when I found these produce bags, I could not resist them and purchased 3 sets. Each set includes a small, medium and large produce bag. They are made out of a very light weight cotton fabric and have draw string to close them with. They are washable in cold water and then should be line/air dried. They are not pre-shrunk so do not toss them in the dryer or you'll have produce bags for a Barbie doll. I have been using these bags now for a few weeks and they have been great. I have even used them for bulk items like popcorn and rice.  I often get asked about them. I am hoping that by using these bags, that this will be a positive example for others to follow. The less plastic that we have in our lives,  the better for us...and the planet.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mountain Valley Growers

I was really excited earlier this month to read about a nursery that stocks organic herbs, perennials and even some vegetables in The Herb Companion magazine. I have been looking for some unusual herbs for the garden but had not been able to find anything at local nurseries or even on some of the seed and plant websites. But, Mountain Valley Growers (MVG) was listed in the article so I decided to check them out. Their website is not the greatest and is a bit difficult to navigate but the variety of herbs and perennials that they have to offer more than makes up for the hassle.

I have never ordered plants for delivery before so I was a little worried about how they would arrive. But, the plants arrived safe and sound as you can see from the first photograph. MVG really knows what they are doing and it gave me a lot of confidence in their operation. Now, if I can do justice to the plants that I received and keep them alive and thriving.

I ordered the following herbs and perennials:
  • Moroccan Mint (for tea...of course)
  • Kentucky Colonel Mint (can't make a Mint Julep without it)
  • Lavender Mint (because it sounded interesting)
  • Lemon Thyme (love me lemon anything)
  • Cretan Oregano (how could I resist with a name like that)
  • Creeping Pink Thyme (needed some groundcover for around the bird bath)
  • Dwarf Blue Butterfly Bush (looking to attract more birds and insects to the garden)
  • Sungold Butterfly Bush (looking to attract more birds and insects to the garden)
Everything is planted now. And, so far, so good. I'm even thinking of ordering a tray of the creeping thyme since I could use a little more groundcover in a few areas.