Category Archives: garden

Bloomin’ Rhubarb

If you grow rhubarb, this is a familiar, exciting sight this time of year.

Last year, I put in a few new rhubarb plants. They were rather inexpensive and I thought I could fill in ye olde rhubarb patch a bit. Then, this happened.

The variety I bought is an old-fashioned rhubarb variety known for bolting. I would not have bought it if I had realized this at the time, but it was an impulse buy. Bolting occurs when the plant sends up a flower stalk in an attempt to produce seed. Bolting reduces the amount of energy the plant has to put into leaf growth. We eat the delicious leaf stalks of rhubarb, so bolting reduces the harvest and is an undesirable trait. More modern rhubarb varieties have had the tendency to bolt bred out of them. I am reminded of modern commercial turkeys who can’t reproduce without human intervention, but I want more delicious rhubarb so I prefer the modern varieties too.

The flower is a little alarming and it looks something like pink cauliflower. The gardener can simply chop off the flower stalk, and the rhubarb should return its attention to growing leaves. It would be preferable to chop it off before it gets this big, but we were busy.

Now that the flowers are gone, hopefully our new rhubarb plants will go back to making pie fillings. I’m not sure if I’m willing to tolerate this behavior, or if I should dig them up and plant a different variety.


Filed under garden

Spuds growing up

It’s the time of year when we dig through our potato stacks, collect the dirty, jewel-toned potatoes and start to pick our favorite potato recipes. This year we grew six varieties in our stacking potato towers. We alternated layers of 50/50 compost/soil and straw. It was interesting to see the layers when we began to unearth the potatoes.

The chickens were super interested in the potato harvest. Pepper was the most involved. Of course, she’s very interested in all human behaviors.

I planted 1# of each variety in the stacking boxes. Here’s the yield:
viking purple – 2#
german butterball – 6#
russian banana – 1.5#
french fingerling – 5#
princess 1.75#
red thumb 2#

Conclusion: 99% of the potatoes were in the bottom box of our stacked wooden boxes. That means our shoveling, stacking, side dressing and work was for naught. We could have achieved the same yield by growing potatoes in the ground. I’m happy we grew potatoes, don’t get me wrong. Nothing beats the taste of a fresh-dug, homegrown potato. The yield of some of our ’11 varieties was good, but overall, the stacking method was a lot of work without a lot of benefit. We’ll be retiring the wooden boxes next year in favor of planting in-ground rows. It will take up more space, but we can squeeze ’em in since we added those 400 square feet at the community garden. Now, we have to figure out what we can reuse these stacking wooden boxes for…. Any ideas?


Filed under fall, garden, urban farming

Levi, Lenora, and the Blue Hubbard

I didn’t exactly plan on showing you several shots of the same squash, but somehow I just really enjoyed this series of Levi & our biggest Blue Hubbard. Most of our squashes are just cute little things, so this guy looks like a monstrosity. Apparently these suckers can be up to 40 pounds. Ours is a modest 13-pounder.

Leave it to Lenora to steal the show.


Filed under chickens, family, garden

what’s for dinner?

Hectic week. Phew. How about you?

Dinner might have been spring rolls and dumplings from Trader Joe’s, but hey, at least we had homemade plum sauce from plums we scored at our community garden.

Recipe from Put ’em Up.

And! Our very first taste of our very first edamame.

Add that to the list of things worth growing again.

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Filed under food, garden

Grow up, Squash!

One of the coolest things about a community garden is seeing how people garden differently and learning from their experiences. We share a few collective plots in our garden for the food bank & shared harvests. One of these plots has turned into an experiment in vertical squash production. A fellow gardener built a trellis from salvaged material for the collective winter squash.

I have been peripherally interested in trellising squash for the past two years. The sprawling vines of a squash plant take up a lot of room, so growing it vertically saves quite a bit of space and I suspect the vertical space provides extra ventilation to help with the mildew that plagues squash. It just seems like a good idea, and the squash seem happy enough to climb up the trellis.

I am not a very tool-savvy person and I haven’t dedicated the time to engineering this sort of project. So imagine my excitement to watch squash growing like this on trellises we didn’t have to build.

There is some mildew on the lower leaves, but otherwise the plant seems healthy. Most other squash in the garden were 75% mildew at this point.

I am worried about that the weight of heavier squash might pull them off the vine before they’re fully ripe. So far, I haven’t seen many issues with this at the community garden so it may not be a problem after all. Plants are pretty smart about gravity, so they might know how to handle it. If you’re worried about the weight, you can fashion a little hammock for the squash. The trellis method is more labor-intensive than letting squash grow across the ground, but since Krista & I seem to have an affinity for making gardening projects more labor-intensive than other people (see: our potato stacks) that shouldn’t be a problem.

This method wouldn’t work with very large squash like the hubbards, but I can imagine acorn squash or sugar pie pumpkins getting along fine without ripping down the structure. A major limiting factor for how much squash we plant is always space, so I’m excited about the possibilities. Have you ever grown winter squash vertically? Share your experiences!



Filed under fall, garden, urban farming

The Mighty Amaranth

I probably read too many library books, but in the last two years I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the idea of small-scale grain cultivation. I won’t pretend that I could grow enough wheat to keep my family in pizzas for a year, but I do think it would be nice if we could produce more of our dietary staples. Additionally, we have chickens now. We let them free-range for food and we feed them a Washington-grown, all-natural, locally-milled, mostly organic chicken feed, but I like to think that with a little practice, I could grow some of their food myself. So I decided to practice growing grain.

Back in the day: Baby amaranth seed head.

We live in the city on a big-for-a-city-but-not-a-farm-sized lot, so I started looking for grains that are easy to thresh manually and have a high yield in a small space. Stuck between quinoa & amaranth, I decided on amaranth for our 2011 garden for the following reasons:
1. It makes beautiful flowers.
2. I got more google results for “western washington”+”amaranth cultivation” than quinoa. Yes, I make gardening decisions by the whim of Google’s hive mind. It’s a big experiment anyway.

What do I know about amaranth? Not that much. It’s a gluten-free psuedo-grain, native to the Americas. It’s grown in many cultures for edible seed, stems, leaves & roots as well as ornamental purposes. They sell it at my local food co-op. I don’t know that I have ever cooked with it. That’s the extent of my amaranth knowledge. I like the unknown.

Hartman’s Giant amaranth propped up by a ginormous Jerusalem artichoke plant.

With that settled, I hopped over the Baker Creek to check out their Amaranth collection. (By the way – Baker Creek is awesome. Especially if you’re a plant nerd.) I picked the Golden Giant Amaranth for its alleged heavy yield ( up to 1 lb of white seed per plant) and the Hartman’s Giant Amaranth because it was developed in Oregon. If you decide to grow amaranth, make sure you get a variety that has been cultivated for seed production.

The seeds are unbelievably small. I had a hard time believing they would grow to 7′ or 10′ tall, but they did. I planted a little later than I’d planned due to some complications with the weeds at our community garden plot, but the amaranth seemed to enjoy our summer weather. It has been a delight to have amaranth in our garden. It is an exceptionally lovely plant and brings a lot of joy to my fall garden under the grim, gray PNW autumn. I already decided to grow it again next year. I’ve learned a lot this season: amaranth can withstand a lot of heat and dry weather without much water. I barely watered these plants once they were established because they’re far away from a hose. They are also top heavy once the seeds start developing; about 1/3 of my plants have toppled over. I need to stake them next year. When I thin the plants, the chickens are very happy to annihilate the thinnings for me.

We’ve yet to bring the crop to harvest, but I am tentatively hopeful that we will produce a yield. I’ve read that you should harvest the seed heads after the first frost. I’m not sure if that’s accurate in my climate, but I didn’t find any better information. So, hopefully you’ll see some lovely amaranth recipes here in the coming months.

Do you have experience growing grain or any amaranth recipes you can’t live without? Or do you have any advice about growing quinoa? We’re going to do that next year, too.



Filed under garden, urban farming

And I will eat them in the rain

And in the dark.
And in a tart.

Of course I’m not talking about green eggs and ham. I’m talking about the tomatoes that won’t quit. Before we get to the tart, a few memorable tomatoes.

the tomato monster

jaune flamme and chocolate cherry tomatoes, both delicious beyond words

most of the tomatoes we grew are average sized and then there’s this guy

for scale

And now for the tart.

The recipe is this French Tomato Tart from David Lebovitz‘s blog. Except instead of the tart dough in that recipe, I made a whole wheat cream cheese pastry dough. I’ve been dying to try this. I gave it a whirl with whole wheat pastry flour in this cream cheese pastry dough recipe. This turned out better than I expected, even using lighter neufchâtel for cream cheese. The pastry was so good I saved the scraps and made us a homemade Pop Tart with some of our preserves for dessert.

note from Jess: I worked an insanely long day the day this tart happened. I came home to find this delicate morsel waiting for me. It was unspeakably good. I can’t even talk about it, except to say that you should Definitely make this recipe.


Filed under food, garden

Extended tomato season

I don’t think it’s any secret that we love growing tomatoes. We live in the pacific northwest, so growing a single tomato requires luck, strategy, the right tomato varieties, cooperating weather and maybe a little magic. Our backyard tomatoes are treated like precious treasures.

In 2009, by some fluke, we harvested more than we could handle. It was insane. Our tomatoes were their own kingdom.

In 2010, we suffered some major challenges and I harvested exactly one cherry tomato from a raised bed of blighted tomatoes. Two contributing factors were terrible weather and us not realizing our new front yard got so many visiting deer. And then we got late blight! Ha ha… I can laugh now. This year, I planted tomatoes in many places so they couldn’t share their blight. We picked out something like 14 varieties of tomatoes to stack the odds against most conceivable tomato maladies. We tucked tomatoes into containers, self-irrigating planters, and mounded bed systems. It seemed like we were behind all season, but that’s why gardeners should keep records. Our first 2011 tomato ripened only 17 days after our earliest 2009 tomato, despite our record-breaking cold, wet spring. We’re regularly harvesting lots of tomatoes every week now. Our weather is stuck in a low-gear of summer; daytime temps have been in the 70s, nights are in the 40s or 50s. It’s not ideal for growing tomatoes, but it’s enough extra time to vine ripen them. I don’t know how long this weather will last, but I’ll keep harvesting as long as they keep ripening. We’ve been eating a lot of pico, TLT (tempeh+lettuce+tomato) sandwiches, and canning sauce, salsa and tomato jam for the dark days to come.

Our kitchen counter:

Isis Candy cherry tomatoes:

Jaune Flamme tomatoes:

We wouldn’t complain if the tomatoes just kept coming at a steady pace until Christmas.


Filed under fall, food, garden

chocolate-dipped ground cherries

We’ve been waiting all summer for this.

It seemed to take forever for our ground cherries to ripen.

We grow Aunt Molly’s ground cherries every year now. They are not cherries, but a tomato in a papery husk like a tomatillo. They have a high pectin count and delightfully sweet pineapple-vanilla flavor with just a hint of tomato. Aunt Molly’s ground cherries are part of the Ark of Taste, a list of foods in danger of extinction. Makes it a little sweeter to grow them in your yard.

The husks make a perfect little handle for you to dip them in chocolate and then pop them in your mouth. These were dipped in dark chocolate so as not to overpower the perfect sweetness of the fruit.

Now if only we can get enough more to ripen for a batch of jam. We crave these things all year!

Jess previously wrote about ground cherries here, including tips on how to easily save seeds.

We got our original seeds from Uprising Seeds.


Filed under food, garden

tomatoes for breakfast

For me this time of year is what being a gardener is all about. I love having an abundance of food from our yard that is so flavorful you can make a few simple ingredients taste incredible.

We were out of bread this morning, so no eggs in a nest. I glanced over at the growing pile of tomatoes in the kitchen and breakfast was born: heirloom tomatoes and basil from the garden, a drizzle of olive oil, S&P and two poached eggs on top. Perfection!


Filed under food, garden