You Mean the Stuff Inside Fig Newtons?

Growing figs is a tradition in my family. My parents have close to a dozen edit: half-dozen re-edit: dozen(!) trees of various varieties, originally obtained from “the fig man” on Long Island. All of their trees are planted in large pots so they can be brought into a protected, but cool, place (aka the garage) to go dormant for the winter. So, when Tim and I got our first fig tree (as a honeymoon souvenir from Jefferson’s Monticello), we continued in the same tradition of bringing it in every winter. I probably shouldn’t mention that it died in our apartment kitchen one winter when we were living in our apartment.

a few tiny figs we were able to pick last summer before the squirrels got them…

However, over the years, we’ve seen several examples of figs thriving outdoors year-round — especially in more urban areas. So we decided to try it with the two trees we now have (both splits from my parents’ trees). We were fairly confident that our trees would survive the winter, but took several steps to make that success even more certain.

First, we planted them in the sunniest spot in the yard, which because of the fence, is also fairly sheltered from winds…

Then we rigged up a big cage out of two tomato cages, inside which we hung burlap. Said burlap was attached with twist ties and held down at the bottom by bricks…

Next, we filled the cavity with oh… about a kajillion leaves…

and lastly, we covered the top with more burlap. Fancy, right?

Then this guy came by to wish us good luck with his last dying breath.
Well, not really, but it makes for a more dramatic story, doesn’t it?

And then winter happened.

And happened some more.

And happened even more,

until we could hardly stand it anymore!!!

Finally spring arrived (sigh), and we decided it was safe to open up the cage and let the little figgies out…

aaaand we have buds, people!

We may have to prune a bit off the top of one of the trees, but overall, it seems to have been a successful over-wintering!
Now, if we could just keep the squirrels away…


Kitchen Runner (on the Cheap)!


Starts of Spring

It was a long, hard winter here, but now there’s no denying it — it’s finally spring (finally!).

This will be our second year growing garlic. In the fall of 2009, we started by planting several heads of organic garlic we got from a grocery store. From that planting, we got a harvest of about thirty full heads (enough to get us through the year without purchasing any garlic from a store). We also had enough surplus, that last fall we were able to propagate the next crop with it. Isn’t that cool??? Okay, I realize there are very few people who will find that even remotely “cool”…

We selected the largest heads, divided them into separate cloves, and planted them approximately 2″ deep and 6″ apart (experts suggest planting between 4″ and 8″ apart — Each clove will grow into a complete head of  garlic, so a smaller space will limit the size of each new head).

As for other veggies we’re growing this year… So far, in our raised beds, Tim has direct-seeded spinach, broccoli rabe, carrots, radishes, and mesclun (with kale, and arugula to come). I don’t have any images of them — just picture cute, tiny little sprouts. :)

Garlic (left) & Brassica Starts (right)

We also have a plot in a community garden (located in an otherwise unused corner of a nearby cemetery), which we hope to have access to soon. For that, Tim has started several brassicas: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts (one of my favorites!), as well as cucumbers. I think he’s also trying to do watermelon and butternut squash, but the old seeds don’t seem to be germinating (yet). Once the community plot is plowed, we’ll put in string beans, potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, basil, and other various herbs, most of which we’ll get as starts from Greesnsgrow.

Broccoli (left) & Brussels Sprouts (right)Cucumber Sprouts

Our goal is to be able to be able to get through most of the year without having to buy much produce from the grocery store. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna need a chest freezer…

* * * * * *

Our Radishes

Last week, I picked the rest of the radishes left in our little patch. Not only were the radishes full-grown and ready, but the carrots we planted in the same space were begging for more room to stretch out.

Look at all those beautiful greens! I always feel bad about throwing them out (composting, actually). So whenever possible, we wash and save our greens. And tonight, I cooked them in some olive oil with garlic, crushed red pepper, and Gimme Lean (veggie) sausage. Mixed into some thin spaghetti and topped with pecorino romano and black pepper, we all (including Moxie and Moo) gave it a thumbs up!

Oh, Sod it!

Last week, Tim picked up some sod, and we spent an evening laying it down.

Each roll of sod was approximately 2 x 5 feet. Since our plot is about 5.7 x 10, we needed six pieces.

Tim had already cleared and roughly leveled the area after he built the compost bin, but did a once-over with a loop hoe and rake, to get any new weeds that had emerged and to adjust the leveling. While he did that, I picked out the stones that came up. Then we dampened the ground a bit. I don’t know if that’s proper procedure, but we figured it certainly couldn’t hurt.

Rolling out the first piece. Look at how red that soil on the sod is!

We laid the pieces in a brick pattern, so there wouldn’t be a seam line straight across the middle.

Since our plot is not quite six feet wide, we needed to trim a few inches off the center strips.

After we finished laying the pieces, we gave it the best soaking we could with a watering can. After having to fill that can at least ten times (can you say tedious?), we went out the next day to get a little sprinkler.

So, here’s where we’re at:

Here’s hoping that we can keep the grass alive (without too much watering)!

New Compost Bin

Tim and I both grew up in families that gardened and composted. So, when we got married and were in our Fairmount rowhouse apartment, it felt weird for us to throw our food scraps into the trash. We knew we wanted to compost, but as urban newbies, our main concern, was that little (and maybe not-so-little) icky critters would get into it. So, we decided on a fully enclosed Envirocycle compact tumbler, which served us well for several years. Recently, though, we’d been creating more scraps than it could handle, and were saving them in a supplementary tub in the middle of the yard. In order to continue with our plan to have grass in the center section, we needed to get that tub o’ compost out of there.

Tim left the corner supports a bit tall, in case we decide we want a lid on top

So, two weekends ago, we designed, and Tim built a larger compost bin. He used leftover decking and fencing that we already had, and two rolls of mesh hardware cloth. In the narrow space to the right of the bin, we will build or find a container for our saved shredded leaves.

A lift-hatch allows finished compost to be accessed from the bottom of the pile

A tip to anyone thinking of trying their hand at composting: the most important thing is to keep the proper proportion of dry browns (shredded fall leaves, dry grasses, saw dust, etc) and wet greens (organic grass clippings, kitchen scraps, used coffee grounds, etc). There should be at least four times as much browns as greens. If you don’t have enough browns in the pile, the breakdown will be delayed, and the pile can get smelly. And who wants a smelly pile?

The new bin was filled with what had been sitting in compost limbo, layered with several handfuls of shredded fall leaves

If you’re interested in reading a little more about composting, check out Mike McGrath’s Compost 101.

There she is, siting in the back corner…

Do you compost? If so, do you have any helpful tips or stories?

An Experiment in Growing and Eating

a mix of radish, carrots and mesclun (mainly arugula, kale, and leaf lettuce)

Tim read somewhere that carrots and radishes can be planted together because radishes are quick to mature and should be ready to pick by the time the carrots need more space. When he was planting them, I suggested that we also scatter some mesclun seeds over the same space. My logic was that radishes and carrots mainly grow down and lettuce grows up, so there wouldn’t be too much competition. So, at one end of a raised bed, we have a commingled patch of carrots, radishes, and mesclun. Not sure how it’ll work out. It’s an experiment. But so far, it seems okay.

Earlier this week, I thinned out some of the radishes that were growing too close together and cut some mesclun for our first garden salad of the year. I served it along side grilled veggie burgers topped with Swiss cheese, roasted red peppers and sautéed radish greens (in olive oil with some diced onions). I’d never tried sautéing radish greens before, but I figured they were young and tender enough that it just might work. Tim really liked it. But then again, he likes almost anything… :)

Oh, and I can’t forget the sweet potato fries. Did I ever mention that I love sweet potato fries??? No? Okay, here goes: I loooove sweet potato fries!

How about you? Have you tried anything new in your garden or kitchen lately?

April is for Azalea

This is the time of year when our front yard looks it’s best. Everything is filling out, and the new growth is bright and fresh. We have two azalea bushes flanking our walk, and they are finally full of white blooms.

Hopefully the flowers can hold on for at least a week without getting washed away by the forecasted rains.

Our little Moxie-girl

I should be posting more pictures of the perennials in our front yard once I remind myself of the names of all of them.

Poached Eggs & A Simple Spring Meal

Last weekend we visited Tim’s parents and came home with a couple dozen eggs freshly laid by their small flock of chickens. So, tonight I tried making poached eggs for the first time. Since I’d heard that poaching could be a bit tricky, I decided to try the process that appeared to be the most fool-proof:

Using this process, my first egg came out pretty well, but the second one’s yolk was a bit overcooked. It was still wet inside, though, so it was good enough.

For our simple dinner, I tossed some asparagus (picked from our garden) with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roasted it at 400ºF for about 12 minutes.

Then I buttered and toasted a hamburger bun (the only bread we had in the house), topped it with the roasted asparagus, poached egg, and finally, some shaved Pecorino Romano.

Tim digs in. I gave him the better egg.

Our meal was rounded out by a tangy salad of fresh dandelion greens (picked from our yard*) tossed with balsamic vinaigrette.

Tim really enjoyed the meal, so I’m sure I’ll be getting more practice poaching eggs in the near future.

Have you ever made poached eggs?
If so, how do you like to prepare and serve them?

*pesticide and herbicide-free. Why else would it be full of dandelions?