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February 2010
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Souper-Salady

It got a little rainy and cool this weekend, so I was in the mood for something hearty and rich to eat. I also wanted something relatively low-carb and simple. I ended up concocting a Creamy Ham, Potato, Cauliflower soup that started out a bit rocky, but turned out fabulous!

I started with a small ham and a bunch of baby vidalia onions with the greens still attached. I chopped about half of the ham up and put it in the crock pot (on high) with the chopped vidalias and greens, garlic and some chicken stock. When the onions began to soften, I started a pot of peeled, chopped potatoes and chopped cauliflower, salted and filled with enough water to cover everything. I let this boil til the veggies were soft, then used a stick blender to puree it. This got added to the crockpot ham and onions.

White wine and salt and pepper were added, and I tasted it...well, it was pretty darn bland. I decided that maybe there was too much liquid in the potatoes and cauliflower, so next time I think I will steam them, and add as much of the steaming water as seems necessary, which should reduce the water volume quite a bit.

To perk up the flavor, I added some fresh lemon thyme from the garden, fresh grated nutmeg, some cream, butter, and the last bits of some cheese I found in the fridge. This made the soup fairly tasty, and the rest of the folks that were here visiting for a geeky board-game day seemed to enjoy it, too. I left it on low in the crock pot, figuring that the flavor would improve with more slow cooking. My kind husband put the soup away for me, because I fell asleep pretty early that night.

I came back to the soup the next day, and discovered that there wasn't much left! It had been eaten by hungry gamers, but there was still enough for a meal for two, with a bit of stretching. I chopped up some more ham and sauteed it with bacon fat and several big cloves of garlic, minced. When this was cooked until the garlic seemed done, I added the soup and a bit of milk and cooked it long enough to heat it all up really well.

It was like a whole new soup! The rich flavors that I had been hoping for the previous day were all there.

Today for lunch I finished up the very last bit of soup by heating it and pouring it over a bowl full of leaf lettuce and spinach from my garden, and WOW! The peppery, bitter flavor of the fresh greens really enhanced the creamy, garlicky, hammy soup, and the fusion of the two were outstandingly delicious.

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My little Square Foot Garden

Garden Update!

So, lots of good things are growing in my garden! And lots of new stuff is on the way.

First, look at how much everything has grown since my last post:

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The spinach is ready for harvesting, and I've enjoyed a couple of tasty salads with it. There are some lettuces growing in the foreground. (The empty plastic bottles were from my attempt at a slow drip watering method, but it didn't turn out so well.)

Note the marigolds in the bottom left. I've scattered them throughout the garden, because they are supposed to discourage root-munching pests like nematodes, and even some weeds.

 

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Radishes, and two collards (on the left). Between the radishes, I have rows of carrots. They don't seem to grow very quickly, so I suspect I'll be harvesting radishes well before the carrots come up.

 

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More carrots, and a wee broccoli in the background.

 

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Gobs of lettuce! I like these little leaf lettuces. They are pretty peppery and remind me of arugula. I put some in a cream of potato-ham soup the other day, and it was most delicious!

 

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Unfortunately, my swiss chard hasn't been doing too well. I expected it to grow more quickly. It doesn't help that somebody has been munching on the leaves! Methinks one of my next projects will be building a critter-proof fence around my garden. I suspect bunnies.

 

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Turnips! They seem a bit puny too. I wonder if its the soil. Maybe this gardening soil straight from the bag isn't as ideal as I had hoped.

 

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Overview. Onions are growing! There is also a strawberry plant coming up in that orange pot. I planted 8 strawberry roots in several places in the garden, and this is the only one that has sprouted. I won't give up on the others yet, though.

 

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Cucumbers and peppers! I'd better get that trellis kit set up on here before the cucumbers get too big. So far, the Earth Box is doing its job well.

 

New Stuff

I've been busy putting new things in the garden, too.

I've been having to do a whole lot of weeding in all these beds, because I used the soil from my yard, amended with gardening soil. I weed just about every morning when I water, and it is quite a nuisance. When I realized how much time I've already spent in weeding each week, I decided to revisit my book on Square Foot Gardening, and try something else for my latest bed...

I made a 3'x6'x6" frame with some wood from the garage, held together with L-brackets, and I filled it with "Mel's Mix" potting soil: a 1:1:1 ratio of peat moss, vermiculite, and manure. This should be weed free, and is supposed to be so nutritious for the plants that they won't need fertilizer, and don't even need more than 6 inches of depth. According to the book, roots dig deep into the soil if they can't find all the nutrients they need right in their vicinity.

It will be a neat experiment to see how well this new bed does in comparison to the other beds. I also decided to add a grid in square foot increments, and it really did help me figure out where to plant all my seeds. Plus, I have to say, it looks pretty nice and orderly.

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Here is a long view of most of my garden, looking all pleasant in the morning sun:

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I still haven't planted anything in far left bed. I hesitated when I realized how weedy everything was getting. I think I will scatter some sunflower seeds there, or maybe plant nasturtiums in there...bunnies don't like nasturtiums, so it might help keep them out of the rest of my garden noms.

 

Oh! I also have tomatoes started!

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I saw this planter at Walmart, and just had to give it a try. I've got two types of grape tomato growing in the upside down part, and oregano, two peppers and some basil growing in the top, along with the marigold to protect it all. I filled it with the same potting mix as the new SFG frame.

 

Future Expansions

My next projects include adding a drip-feed watering system to help optimize the watering, a fence around the main garden area to keep out critters, and making new room for beans! I think another raised frame bed will do the trick for the beans, although I am also tempted to make a teepee for at least one grouping of beans. I mean, how in the world am I supposed to resist having a teepee in my garden?! I can even find some more garden gnomes to put inside.

Oh, yes. It has been decided. Gnome Bean Teepee has been officially added to the list.

Well, I had better bugger off and get busy!

 

Addendum

As I was just about to finish this post, my cat came in, meowing quite insistently, proudly even, and I looked over to discover him placing a dead varmint at my feet. "Good Boy!" says I, as I petted him, and then carefully carried said critter out to where my cat's food dish is. (I'd rather not have blood, guts and carcasses on the office floor....I know - how fastidious of me!)

Noah likes to catch these little guys, which I have been thinking all this time were voles. Yay, for pest control! Well, I just googled images of voles, and discovered that Noah is not actually catching voles. He's catching shrews, which it turns out are good for the garden because they eat bugs.   :(    They are darn cute, too. Their fur is like the finest, softest velvet you've ever felt...Ah, well, such is the price of having a cat.


Biscuit's Garden 2.0

Last year was the year of my Very First Garden. Prior to that, I had only planted a couple of things at my old house: some day lilies that came from my grandmother and some honeysuckle. Neither of these required any effort to maintain, so I hardly consider that as counting.

Last year's gardening experiment was successful, easier than I thought, rewarding, and even fun. So naturally now that spring is here, I can't resist having another garden this year. In fact, I am so excited about it that I can barely sit still! I squee every time I see new seedlings pop up. I learned a lot last year, and expect that I will learn even more this year.

A few pics from last year's wee garden:

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Most of the growth in this first image is the weeds that I neglected to do anything about. I've put mulch down in hopes of controlling it better, and I'm planning on having a lawn service for mowing, because we just do. not. mow. It's worth it to pay someone else.

This year's garden is already about 3 times bigger than last year's, and I am making plans for more beds because I've run out of room for the stuff I still want to plant. I may be biting off more than I can chew, literally, with too many plants, too many varieties, and just too much to maintain, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of it, and so far I've done pretty well.

Here are some photos of my progress so far:

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Gnigel, the Gnarden Gnome gnuards the spinach and thyme.

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Terraced slope under construction. There is now a prepared bed where the dirt and weeds are in the bottom of this picture. Most of the back yard is a hill, so I decided to put terraced planting beds with little stone paths between them. 

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These zones are reserved for future planting beds. I want to build frames for raised beds and see how I like them. There's plenty of wood in the garage that's been sitting there for years growing cobwebs...might as well put them to use.

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Spinaches, lettuces and yet-to-sprout strawberries.  

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Lettuces! And a couple more spinaches.

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Wee little chamomiles (front), swiss chards (middle) and turnips (back). I am going to have to move the turnips I think, because they probably need more room for root development, so when they all have their real leaves, I'll transplant them to a larger bed.

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Swiss chard sprouts! I got the Bright Lights mix, so they should be very colorful. I've never tasted swiss chard before, so I'm looking forward to giving them a try!

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Onions. These are a mixture too - all sweet - red, yellow, and white. In the back you may be able to see a second bed of onions...they are planted really close together so I can thin them for spring onions.  

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Radishes and carrots. I used different color toothpicks to mark the rows...red for radishes and orange for carrots. The radishes are growing a lot faster than the carrots. 

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These are peppers peeping out of my Earthbox. I've also got a couple of lemon cucumbers planted on the other side of this box, but they haven't sprouted yet. I'm thinking of getting another one of these boxes for my tomatoes. They aren't cheap, but I am impressed with the construction, and I like the easy to fill water reservoir. I discovered that what I thought was a disease of my tomatoes last year was actually tomato blossom end rot caused by inconsistent watering. I watered those 'maters every morning, and even kept drip bottles in the pots, but it wasn't enough.

In addition to the stuff I've pictured, I also have basil and cilantro waiting to be planted, sweet potatoes sprouting in water on my window sill, a broccoli and a couple of collards already in the ground, and oh, yeah! These 4 blueberry bushes:

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The morning sun was a bit too bright when I took this, so it's kinda hard to see the blueberry bushes. I'm really excited about these guys! Each bush is a different type of blueberry. I don't expect to get anything from them this year, because I plucked off all the blooms to let the bushes focus on developing good strong roots. But next year....YUM!

I'm also going to grow beans. I'm not actually planning to eat the beans, as they are not part of my paleo diet (they kinda give me gases), but they make a lot of nitrogen, so they are good to grow for soil replenishment. I'll give the beans away to folks who eat them, and compost the plants for good soil next year. 

I've been reading about companion planting and how some plants help others with nourishment, or protection from predators, bugs, diseases, etc., so I am growing some things that I might not have done otherwise...I'll probably write more about companion planting another day. Mostly I just wanted to get some photos up to document what I've done so far.

Now I need to get my butt into the sewing room! I've got a costume to make before our big Caribbean/Pirate themed party next weekend! Only 8 days left to get so much stuff done. Plus, my mom will be here next Wednesday, so I really only have 5 days! Gah!