Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Planting Lettuce and Greens

Before I planted my own vegetable garden, I was NOT a big fan of salads. "Bland" and "boring" were two adjectives I often associated with it. I just didn't understand how people could be happy eating a big bowl of something so -- well, uninteresting!

After that, however, everything changed for the better! Once I realized the variety of tastes and textures that could come together in one bowl to create something so different from my prior conception of a salad, I was hooked! Side salads with my meals, main course salads -- my creativity had no limits.

Since that time, I have expanded my culinary horizons as far as leafy vegetables are concerned. I regularly add them to soups. Fresh arugula tossed onto a home-made white pizza (sauceless) as it comes out of the oven transforms it! The idea of grilling young head lettuces, sliced in half and brushed with olive oil, intrigues me. Sauteed chard is one of my favorite side dishes -- even better when I add in a little feta cheese.

Today, I plan on sowing my lettuce and greens seeds. Before I do that, let me give you a head's up:

My taste in greens leans to the tangy or peppery side. Mizuna (a type of mustard green) is my hands-down favorite, followed closely by arugula. They will always have a place in my plot!

I also regularly plant the Burpee mesclun mixes: "Sweet Salad Mix" and the "Spicy Mix". In addition to romaine lettuce seedlings I will purchase from my local nursery, I will sow seeds (from The Cook's Garden) for: "Silvia", with its beautiful red leaf, and "Craquerelle du Midi", an heirloom variety that should do well in my warm climate. One of my favorites is a dark red romaine from Seeds of Change called "Outredgeous", which has gorgeous, shiny leaves.

"Lucullus" Swiss chard seeds will be planted today, but at some point soon, I will plant seedlings of "Bright Lights", whose vibrant stems add lovely color to dishes.

Here is one more shout out to dandelion green "Ameliore", mentioned in an earlier post as a favorite of my goose girls. It will be planted first!

Better go...dirt beckons!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Away Until Tuesday!

I will be leaving later today for a little overnight trip with the dogs! Back on Tuesday!

Planting for Us -- And Our Animals!

While I plant the majority of vegetables in my garden for myself, I admit to planting with my pets in mind as well!

The geese are so curious about what I do in the garden and are usually right by the fence, hoping that I am bringing some tasty tidbit out for them to sample. They don't always wait for me, however! Last fall, Syd stuck her head right through the fence and ate my chard plants down to the ground! They never did recover, but she certainly enjoyed herself in the process!

Obviously, the geese enjoy greens of all kinds. In particular, I have noticed that Phoenix prefers red, curly leafed varieties, while Sydney prefers hers green. Neither likes spinach. But, their hands down favorite is -- drum roll, please -- dandelion greens! I am not talking about the common yard variety with the yellow flowers, although they enjoy these, too. What I am referring to are the commercial varieties that are still cut-leafed but much larger than the nuisance variety dandelion. My girls will literally drop what they are doing and run -- even fly over to me -- to get to these morsels as if they were the ambrosia of the gods or something!

My choice of seeds is called Dandelion Ameliore, ordered from The Cook's Garden out of Warminster, PA. I should be able to start planting this and other greens next week!

While my cats are not big fans of vegetables, my dogs are! In fact, my garden will take on greater significance for them, as I recently started feeding them a home-made diet. They had been eating a commercial food, Royal Canin's Venison and Potato, because they have had dietary issues. About two months ago, my vet informed me it would not be available for a while. So, following guidelines from The Whole Dog Journal, I began to cook for them. I rotate their proteins between lean beef, chicken, fish, or lamb, have continued to use potatoes rather than grains as their starch, and add in a variety of vegetables (no onions, though, which are toxic for dogs). Both dogs are doing very well with this lifestyle change!

Dallas and Riley will definitely share many of my vegetables with me, but in particular, I am planting a type of bush bean, Contender, for them. Green beans are not necessarily one of my favorites, but they like them. So, I will plant them...

I know I am not alone in planting for my animals...so, I want to hear everyone's stories in that regard! What do you plant for your pets? What do they seem to like?
(P.S. -- The photo above is Sydney the Goose, with the early spring skeleton of my garden in the background!)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Say Hello to...My Geese!

I would like to introduce everyone to my two domestic geese -- Sydney and Phoenix. No doubt, there will be several stories and photos about them on this blog because they share my backyard with my garden. When people talk about "child-proofing" their homes, I need to "goose-proof" my garden! Otherwise, if they can reach it, they will eat it!

Literally, FOR YEARS, I have threatened to get some chickens. Excuse after excuse later, I never took the plunge! As a frequent visitor to my local feed store, I have been tempted on numerous occasions -- all kinds of chickens, Guineas, and even peacocks. I wouldn't bite, for some reason. Last May, right before Memorial Day weekend, I spied a crate of baby geese. I picked up one, cuddled it, and that was it! That goose became my Sydney. Of course, it needed a companion, so I chose the smallest goose, who was totally getting trampled by the others. That goose became my Phoenix. It was love at first site!

This was not the best time to acquire these babies! In a few days, I had thirty-plus relatives coming to town for my parents 50th anniversary which I was hosting -- in my backyard, where the geese were! Yes, I got them on a whim, which is not necessarily the best way to take on something you have no prior knowledge of ! However, I fly by the seat of my pants, mostly. It's how I garden, too, by the way. To make a long story short, they were the hit of the party with my young cousins! And...how wonderful to get to honor your parents at such a milestone and share it with so many of your relatives! It was great!

But, I needed to be a quick study in raising geese. Luckily, there are many websites available with excellent information, plus I was able to connect with the farm where they were born to learn how to care for them -- and how to protect them. Being on the coast, I already knew that gulls were a threat to young waterfowl and I needed to be vigilant.

Young geese look surprisingly familiar and I had no idea at first what kind these might be. Eventually, I learned that Sydney is a Chinese goose and Phoenix is an African. When they both laid eggs, I knew they were females! For the record, Plymouth geese are the easiest to identify sex by their eye color. Otherwise, unless you probe -- you get what I mean -- it's a crap shoot!

Ten months later, my Girlie Girls (as I call them!) are so funny and I have so enjoyed them! Syd has had some health issues, which are a whole other post. They coexist with my dogs and my cats and we are just one big happy family in our little corner of the world!
(P.S. -- I am still trying to maneuver how to post photos -- the one above is me hand-feeding Phoenix. I promise I will figure out how to post more than one so you can see Syd!)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Succession Planting

Today, I was going to introduce my two geese to everyone (tomorrow!), but I decided to change my topic at the last minute. Yesterday, I was on a wonderful site called Blotanical, which is a garden blog finder. I was perusing through blog sites to add those I liked to my favorites list for regular reading.

I found lots of postings about the vegetable garden at the White House, including a few that posted the actual layout of what would be planted. Most sites cheered the fact that Mrs. Obama was instrumental in wanting her family and White House guests to eat fresh foods for their meals. I have read that she, like many parents, felt guilty about feeding her family much too much in the way of convenience foods over the past few years (no small wonder, with the hectic pace of the campaign trail!). Now that they were settled in one place, she wanted to improve their eating habits. Hooray!

One blog out of Canada, however, caught my eye because while it was complimentary to the White House garden in general, it raised a point that perhaps others have thought of as well. First, I should say that the focus of the blog was short-season gardening because of their location -- keep this in mind as you read along. The writer had apparently looked at the layout of the garden and made the comment, "But where are the tomatoes!!!" Tomato addict that I am, I took a second look at the layout of the White House garden to see if this was so, but then I had an "Ah Ha!" moment. I think I have solved the riddle of the missing tomatoes!

If you look closely at images of the garden, you will see that it says "Spring Garden". No doubt, the White House gardeners will plant tomatoes in the "Summer Garden"! I suspect that our Canadian blogger, in his short season, may need to concentrate growing as much as he can, while he can! That made me want to talk a bit about succession planting.

I am so lucky here in my coastal Zone 7 location to be able to garden a good portion of the year by carefully planning what I plant and when. Typically, I am able to harvest lettuce into December -- albeit under a row cover! I have pulled carrots out of my garden in the middle of winter that are tender and not at all woody! But, in a way, I still consider myself a "short-season" gardener, too, because I consciously divide my long growing season into a "spring" garden", a "summer garden", and a "fall garden". The goal is to plant successively to maximize my harvest throughout the year.

For instance, I have already planted my peas, carrots, parsnips, beets, and fava beans, which all like to germinate when it's a bit colder. When these have been harvested in late May or early June, I will plant my peppers, eggplant, and okra in the same spot when the weather is warm enough for them to thrive. Likewise, I will plant a fall crop in that location when these have finished producing (probably, more peas and also parsnips, the latter of which I will allow to winter-over). Next week, I will sow some lettuce seeds specifically chosen for early planting in cooler conditions. However, I need to make sure that I have enough lettuce in the ground by the end of May because once things heat up in June or July, it is too hot for newly sown seeds to germinate. Rest assured, though, I can plant another crop in September, when our days are not quite so blisteringly hot.

You get the idea, don't you?...It requires thinking outside the box a bit. But, for me, that is the fun -- and the challenge -- of it! And that is how I manage to grow and harvest quite a lot of delicious vegetables in my little island garden throughout most of the year! That is also why I feel very certain that the Obamas will have their tomatoes -- in their summer garden!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why I Garden

Why do I garden? The answer is easy. I enjoy going out to my garden in the morning, picking what is ripe, and planning my meals around what is in season at the moment. When I moved to Virginia four years ago, one of the first things I did was fence off a portion of the yard in order to plant my vegetable garden. I was lucky in Pennsylvania to have a friend who had a garden. Given that gardeners seem to like to share their bounty, I enjoyed the fresh vegetables from her garden that she sent my way. After looking at the pitiful and often wilted selection of produce at the local market on the island, I knew what I wanted to do!

I already had a little herb garden here on the side of the house, but I knew nothing -- and I mean NOTHING -- about vegetable gardening. I thought of myself primarily as a flower gardener at that point. But, I knew what I liked to eat and that was a start. One huge pile of donkey manure later (a very unattractive feature in my front yard for a few weeks), hauled load by painstaking load to the plot (in the FAR corner of my rather large back yard, I might add!), and I was ready to plant. A book called "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible" by Edward C. Smith truly became my bible that first year. It still is my best reference and one I recommend to anyone, whether they are a novice or a veteran gardener. From these pages, I learned what to plant and when. Most importantly, I learned about the idea of companion planting -- basically, what vegetables were friends and should be planted together, and which need some degree of separation to be more successful.

So, I bought some young plants and seeds, got my hands dirty, and guess what? My garden, if I must say so, was quite impressive for someone who was learning literally by doing. I remember bringing some of the very first vegetables over as a gift to my parents in my great-grandfather's basket (more about that in a later post), artfully arranged within. They were so pleased to see that I was using the basket and also to have the fresh food to eat (FYI: They got to keep the food, but not the basket!!). Nonetheless, one of the most satisfying aspects of gardening for me is sharing my harvest with others!

I suppose the intention of this post is to convey that you don't have to be an expert to start your garden. You don't even have to plant a large plot. Many vegetables do well in pots, if that's all you can do or have the space for. So, just do it! There is a big push now to eat local food. You can't get any more local than your own yard! I can guarantee that once you get the taste of your own vegetables, you will be hooked!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My First Post -- Not Too Certain What I am Doing Yet!

Well, here goes...

I have been wanting to start a blog for quite some time. However, I always envisioned it would be a cooking blog of some sort.

To make a long story short, while I have been getting my garden ready for planting this season, I had one of those light bulb over the head moments and decided that I would blog about my vegetable garden and how it progresses this season! I think I will enjoy sharing this with family, friends, and whomever else might stumble upon my blog.

For the record, this will be my fifth summer planting here on this little island off the Virginia coast. Technically, we are Zone 7, but can get away with planting things that are perennial in Zone 8.