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…

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What’s Coming Up

Here’s a quick peek at what’s coming up in our vegetable garden so far…

Seedlings: cucumber, butternut squash, watermelon (not pictured), kale (not pictured), cabbage, Brussels sprouts & broccoli…

Thirty or so heads of garlic at one end of a raised bed…

Asparagus (which we gladly inherited from our home’s previous owners)…

Our first harvest of the year (a full two weeks ahead of last year’s)!

A Bit of Progress in the Backyard

We took advantage of the essentially perfect weather over the past few weekends, to make a bit of headway in the backyard.

Tim put in wood edging around the center area that will eventually be planted with sod (when we last checked, Home Depot and Lowe’s had not yet received their shipments).

We moved one of the asparagus crowns closer to the deck, so we’d have more room to build a compost pile in the back corner (sorry, no picture). Then Tim installed edging around the asparagus bed while I groomed Moxie.

Moxie looking cute(r) after her trim.

Tim leveled and tamped the soil around the left raised bed, put down weed-blocking fabric, and finally, six bags of cedar mulch.
Our next step is to do the same thing around the other raised bed.

BTW, the trash can is full of shredded leaves, which we add to our kitchen scraps when composting.

There sure is a whole lot of wood going on back there…

Back Yard = Work-In-Progress

Since the weather has been warm recently, and our thoughts are returning to gardening and outdoor projects, I thought I would get the internets up-to-date on our back yard progress previous to this year. That way, I have a starting point from which to post further updates…

Okay, so the spring before we moved in, the backyard looked like this:

(April ’06 – Concrete patio and yard overrun with strawberry plants.)

Being the wannabe farmer that Tim is, come spring, his first priority was to put in a couple of raised beds to grow vegetables. At the time, we had not yet come up with a plan for the overall space, so he put them where it made the most sense at the time. Later, I drew up a plan (several, actually, that have been morphing over time). And since then, we’ve been working towards that goal in bits and pieces, as we’ve had the time and resources.

(April ’08 – Original placement of two raised beds.)

After the raised beds were in, we made a bed of gravel along the back of the house, where we put a small, but much-needed, shed for tool storage. Sidenote: We compromised on a plastic one. Yes, I know Tim could have built a wooden one – and one that would have been more aesthetically pleasing – but it was a matter of expeditiousness and money. We also put in a herringbone brick path to the shed. I love herringbone brick (especially with moss growing in the cracks)!

(July ’08 – Shed on gravel bed with brick path and three
‘Mocha’ Choral Bells. We got that plant in the metal container for really cheap, but unfortunately, it has not survived.)

The adjacent concrete slab patio was not very pretty, and had a stepped down area which was basically a waste of space. So, Tim installed decking over the slab. Extending boards across the entire 12′ x 12′ space effectively increased our usable patio area by a good thirty-percent or so (I don’t know the percentage, I just made that up). Then, Tim tore down the chain link gate at the front of the yard, and built a horizontal wood fence along the left side. The portion along the back of the yard was built last summer. Hopefully, this year, we can get the front part, including gate, done so Moxie can finally roam the yard off-leash!

(October ’08 – Deck and fencing along left side of yard. We planted two types of decorative grass there, but because of the grape arbor, they are not getting enough sun.)

During this process, we’ve had several ideas that have been adjusted along the way. For example, the original placement of the raised beds on the left side of the yard, was based on the assumption that we were going to keep the two small apple trees that were on the right side of the yard when we moved in. Soon enough, we realized that the few (5?) apples they produced would be eaten by squirrels even before they got a chance to ripen! Needless to say, I didn’t feel bad about giving the “go” to cut them down. This allowed us to move the second veggie bed to the right side of the yard, opening up the space between the two beds. My first thought was that we could put a tiny fish pond in the center. But then we adopted Moxie, and I figured that probably wasn’t the best idea. We also had grand ideas for hardscaping around and between the beds, using bluestone squares and pea gravel, but dallied on that because of the costs.

(March ’09 – After the apple trees were cut down and the rightmost veggie bed was moved. Before, the back portion of chainlink was removed and wood fencing built. My dad got the random broken slate steppers for free, but there wasn’t enough to go around both beds, so we moved them to the front yard last fall.)

This is now our fourth (!!!) spring in our home, and I have decided to scale back our grand plan, so we can just get this thing done already! I don’t want another year of messy and unattractive dirt, mud, and weeds around the raised beds. We need something low-maintenance and simple. Therefore, I’ve decided we’ll plant a patch of sod in the center area, and put small wood chips/mulch around the beds. Not as pretty as bluestone, but it works.

So, this is the latest incarnation of the back yard plan, to give you a bird’s eye view (click here to see it a bit larger):

We hope to get the grass (sod) and mulch portion done over the next few weekends (weather permitting!).

After that, the remaining steps are to:
1.    build a compost bin out of scrap wood
2.    transplant Japanese Blood Grass currently on the left side of the yard to
the area behind the grass patch (not enough sun in current location)
3.    purchase and plant Sky Pencil Holly in river stone strip on left side
(where Japanese Blood Grass was), if money allows
4.    build front portion of the fence and gate
5.    build right side of fence??? (Neighbor already has solid wood fence. This would just be for aesthetics)

Can Tim and Vicki actually get this done?
Or will they run out of steam and money along the way?
Stay tuned to find out!
Same Bat-time, same Bat-station!

Eating Outdoors Again!

Yesterday (and so far today), we’ve had a break from the constant rains that have been plaguing (uh, I mean, blessing) the east coast. So, last night, we ate dinner outside for the first time in quite a bit.

Lately, I’ve been semi-obsessed with Vegan Dad. It’s a really great cooking blog, and his photos make every recipe look absolutely mouth-watering. I’ve made several of his recipes recently, including Vegan Italian Sausages, Breaded and Baked Tofu Cutlets, and last night, Maple Balsamic Grilled Tofu (pictured above).


Summer Wind, Shifting Sails

It’s funny how once the weather warms up, my focus so quickly gets diverted from all of our unfinished indoor projects, to all of our unfinished outdoor projects.

One of our recent indoor priorities was to get the kitchen ceiling finished, so we can finally, after almost three years, put in a proper light fixture (we still have a trash-picked floor lamp in the corner of the room). The ceiling is now 80% done… But more on that later! Now, I’d rather think about the back yard!

Lately, I’ve been window-shopping fire pits. I love the feel and smell of a wood-burning fireplace. But since I don’t have one inside the house, gosh darn it, I’ll have one outside the house!

I love the look of a simple concrete bowl…


Solus Hemi natural gas-burning fire bowl

…but these are priced waaaaaay out of our range (at $3500-$4200, whose range is it within?!). I’ve thought about purchasing a bowl-shaped concrete planter or even making our own concrete bowl, but the concrete bowl planters I’ve found online are at least 500 lbs (and are still way too expensive anyway). And I don’t think anything we’d make ourselves would be safely fireproof. Not to mention the mess we’d make.

So, here are the few examples of fire pits on the lower end of the price spectrum…that I actually like…(listed from most to least expensive):

CB2 Sparky

Fire Sense Square

Fire Sense Grilltech Terrace

Fire Sense Urban 650
Fire Sense Urban 650

Landmann Halo
Landmann Halo

I like the idea of a round shape, since we have so many straight lines going on in the space…but with the exception of the CB2 Sparky (which is actually a tad more than I’d like to spend), the round ones are a bit flying saucer-esque with their tripod legs…and Tim just cringed when I showed him the Grilltech Terrace, so I guess that one’s out. :) I am drawn to the square one, though, with its clearly modern design which distinguishes it from the masses. I am taking suggestions…

And of course, after we decide on a fire pit, we’ll just have to flank it with a couple of butterfly chairs that I’ve been eyeing for so long…right???

Dining Alfresco

All of a sudden it’s summer (or so the weather is telling leading us to believe)! So, this weekend we took the grill out of storage and have been eating our meals outside.

Our first outdoor meal of the season:

Veggie burgers with shoestring sweet potato fries and freshly picked dandelion salad – yum!

Here’s to many more alfresco meals to come!

The Shadow of Things to Come

Yesterday’s weather was pretty much perfect…a nice break after several days of rain and gray. It makes me look forward to the many meals we will eat outside in the coming months.We were beginning to think that perhaps our asparagus plants had given up the ghost. But alas, we finally noticed a few stalks popping up. Spring has finally sprung!