Tag Archives: gardening

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

red thumb fingerling potatoes

A quick reminder of the beauty of nature on a Sunday morning when I sliced open some fingerlings to make the family a simple roasted potato and scrambled egg breakfast.

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Filed under food

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

Books from my nightstand

The nights are growing longer and it suddenly got chilly in Olympia this week. It hasn’t technically frosted yet, but our nighttime temps have dipped to 35ish. This weather means that I can find time to turn my attention back to the books on my nightstand that have been languishing all summer while we spent our daylight hours weeding, plucking, picking, shoveling, etc. So, here’s what’s on my nightstand.

Grow Great Grub, by Gayla Trail.
I must have read this book four or five times already, but everytime I find something new. Gayla Trail is a smart person. She’s one of those garden writers who knows what she’s talking about, and writes factual, true things. The advice in this book is solid, and I always recommend her work to beginning gardeners. I think it’s important to have advice that actually works when you are starting out. Failure is so discouraging when you start gardening, so set yourself up for success.

Canning for a New Generation by Liana Krissoff
We’re always on the look-out for interesting new canning ideas so I get a lot of jam and pickle cookbooks from the public library. Don’t get me wrong, I am crazy for a jar of plain-jane blackberry jam, but inspiration and challenges keep me excited about what’s happening in the kitchen. It saves canning from becoming a chore. I’ve heard good things about this book, but haven’t cooked from it yet.

Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

Permaculture is the idea of designing your space into a sort of ecosystem where each piece supports the others, a sort of “closing the loop” for sustainability and self-sufficiency. Most permaculture examples are BIG, like acres of land, but this book tries to scale the ideas down to a home-sized permaculture system. I don’t think that “real” permaculture is our goal, personally, but I would like to be more closed-loop about a lot of things, so I’m reading this book for inspiration.

Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture by Sepp Holzer

Speaking of permaculture – Sepp Holzer has been practicing permaculture for decades in high elevations in Austria. He has a lot more space than we do, but I’m interested to learn about hügelkultur and some other ideas we could apply on a much smaller scale.

I’m also reading 1Q84, but that seems a little out of place here. So, what’s on your nightstand for these long, cold nights ahead?

We were in no way compensated for including any of these books. We either bought them, received them as gifts from family, or checked them out from the public library. All of my opinions are entirely my own.


Filed under fall

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

margherita pizza on zucchini crust

Surely we aren’t the only ones still trying to polish off tomatoes and zucchini? This is an interesting spin on pizza crust and another way to use up that zucchini. More protein and hidden veggies than your usual carb-laden dough, it resembles a zucchini pancake or a thin, crispy omelet. Somehow it works!

zucchini crust

makes two small crusts

4 cups grated zucchini
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour

margherita toppings

6 medium tomatoes
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh basil, torn into pieces
1-1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella
1/4 cup shredded parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425° F. Cover two cookie sheets with silpat mats or parchment. Heat a a medium pot of water and prepare an ice bath for blanching the tomatoes.

Place the grated zucchini in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the salt over it and stir to combine. Let the zucchini sit for 15 minutes.

See how the salt starts to draw out the liquid? While that is doing its magic, blanche the tomatoes. Don’t know how? You can find instructions here. Peel the tomatoes and if you care about removing the seeds, de-seed them. I don’t care, so I just leave them in. Then roughly chop the tomatoes and use the side of the blade to smash them up a bit.

Put the zucchini in a sieve and squeeze out as much liquid as you possibly can.

Lightly beat the eggs, and add to the zucchini along with the flour. Stir just to combine. Spread half the batter on each cookie sheet, spreading as thin as you can without creating any holes. Bake at 425° F for 12-18 minutes. You want them to be nice and golden. Then turn the oven down to 375° F.

While the crusts are baking put the tomatoes in the sieve to drain off excess liquid.

When your crusts are ready for toppings, spread tomato evenly over each crust. Sprinkle with salt to taste and drizzle with the olive oil. Layer about half the basil over the tomato, then mozzarella, the other half of the basil, and finish with parmesan. Bake for 5-7 more minutes.

Makes two small (about 8 inch) pizzas. Serves 4.


Filed under food, recipes

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