The infiltrator brought back-up…

So, yesterday I blogged about the mystery seed that has sprouted in the midst of our dill and next to our sage.  Since he looks like he’s growing straight out of some compost eggshell, I felt like the safe assumption is that he’s from seeds that were in our compost.  BUT, almost as if the plants have ears… or, actually, internet and are following this blog… this morning I noticed two of the infiltrator’s brethren had popped up in one of our raised beds (a good 10 ft. from our box with dill).  Does this mean that they’re not from seeds that were in our compost?  No, not necessarily.  We added the same compost to the bed near the bok choy.  Still… this is very suspicious.  I’m dying to know what these plants are!

The larger plants are the baby bok choy.  You will see the mystery seeds in the top right – with yellowish coloring on the ends of their leaves.  WHO ARE THEY?

Seeds, Round 1

We’ve learned firsthand that not all plants are long for this world (RIP basil & corn salad).  A couple of weeks ago, we transplanted our first crop of seedlings to the outdoor raised beds (minus the tomatoes, they remain inside til we’re sure it’s warm enough – per our research and all of our friends’ suggestions.)  This means that we pushed peas, hot peppers, bok choy, spinach, basil, mache verte, and radishes out of the nest.  Here are a bunch of them just before they went into the ground:

The planter furthest from the house we left most empty (for tomatoes) and put a row of basil on the end (because it makes sense to keep the tomato and the basil together, gastronomically speaking).  The middle planter got mache verte, baby bok choy, and spinach (in that order).  The planter closest to the house holds hot peppers and radishes (in the front) and a row of peas (in the back).

I’m sad to report that the mache verte and the basil did not make it 😦  Both wilted and disappeared (almost as if the plants had never been there).  The spinach is struggling.  The peppers are not flourishing, but they seem ok.  The peas are making a come-back.  And the baby bok choy and radishes are the real winners – they’re doing great!

4.28 radishes looking great:

4.28, questionable spinach:

4.28, baby bok choy:

Peas, peppers, 4.28:

So that is, in a nutshell, where the seeds from round 1 stand.

The tomatoes remain inside.  I’ve noticed that the Brandywine tomatoes seem to be having the hardest time – so we started a few more from seed a couple of weeks ago (just to be on the safe side).

The tomatoes:

Also outside, the cilantro.  The cilantro used to look like this:

And now looks like this (at the top – the smaller plants in the front are chammomile):

Lastly, the sunflowers… which used to look like this:

Now look like this!:

Also, the nasturtium, which I’d all but given up on… finally sprouted.  I must have planted them outside just over a month ago.  Just this week I FINALLY saw them emerge.  I had no idea flowers could take so long to sprout.  I’m really happy (they’re one of my favorite flowers!) that it looks like we’ll be seeing their happy orange faces in the space between our raised beds.  Success.

I planted these because they’re pretty… but it bears mentioning that they are another edible in the garden.  Oftentimes people find the bulk of the plant too bitter, and so stick with only the petals – but they can be used in a variety of ways in the kitchen.

One website (www.herbalgardens.com) shared the following recipes:

Stuffed Nasturtium Flowers

Mix 8 ounces softened cream cheese with 2 Tablespoons finely minced chives or other herbs of your choice. Stuff the mixture into nasturtium flowers and place on a tray that has been lined with nasturtium leaves. Serve at room temperature.
Nasturtium Vinegar

1 cup nasturtium leaves, flowers, and buds

1 pint champagne or white wine vinegar

Place the ingredients in a clean clear glass jar or bottle. Tightly seal. Let sit for at least 3 weeks before using. Place a new nasturtium in the finished bottle for decoration, but you should make sure the vinegar always covers the flowers or they will mold. Makes 1 pint vinegar to use in salads, sauces and flavoring in other dishes.
Nasturtium Lemon Butter

This lovely butter has a mild lemon/pepper flavor and a colorful appearance. It is wonderful on fish, chicken and vegetables. This is also great on those small party breads, pumpernickel especially.

1/2 cup unsalted butter softened

1-2 teaspoons grated lemon peel (according to taste)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3 tablespoons finely chopped nasturtium blossoms

Mix all of the ingredients well until smooth and well blended. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to serve. Makes 3/4 cup flavored butter.
Pickled Nasturtium Seeds

Use green nasturtium seeds, and in picking retain a short length of stem on each. Lay the seeds in cold salted water for two days (two tablespoons salt to one quart water), then place them in cold water for another day. Drain well and place the seeds in a glass jar, cover with vinegar heated to the boiling point, and close the jar tightly. In a few days the seeds will be ready to use. They are an excellent substitute for capers.

I’ve also seen them in stir fry, cooked with pasta, or used as a garnish in a variety of ways. (Particularly lovely: on top of a cupcake)

And then I stumbled upon this recipe for nasturtium mayonnaise (I wonder if the mayonnaise-only store that just opened in my old ‘hood is going to have this!…. yes, a mayo-only store… WTF).

Nasturtium Mayonnaise
makes 8 servings as a sauce for fish
T his recipe is the perfect compliment to chilled summer salmon, or any fish, fresh off the grill. Also makes a great spread for tea sandwiches, or any sandwich needing some zip.

1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 tsp. finely minced garlic
2 tsp. coarsely chopped capers
1/3 tsp. grated lemon peel
2 tsp. chopped nasturtium leaves

 

Combine all ingredients. Keep chilled until ready to use.

We have our first infiltrator

One  of these days, we’ll have to write a blog about our composting project.  That’s more Ken’s thing – so I’ll leave it to him.  For the purposes of this post, I just wanted to note that a) we compost and b) we have been adding some of the compost to our window boxes/pots/raised beds, as we plant seeds and transplant our seedlings.  We’ve also collected some of our compost “tea” and used it to water the plants after we first transplant them.  I can’t say if it’s done any good – but it certainly hasn’t done any harm.  Our indoor compost gets a lot of eggshells and vegetable waste… but I think we generally try to avoid any seeds.  That being said, I noticed this dude in our window box (which houses dill and sage) today:

It looks like the seed is growing straight out of one of the compost eggshells… so it’s definitely something we ate and threw away.  To me, it looks like a squash – similar to the squash plants we’re growing indoors right now – but I don’t think we’ve eaten squash in months.  So, I’m at a loss.  Eggplant??  I’m excited to find out.  I love that there’s a little mystery in our garden.

These were our squash plants a couple of weeks ago.  See the similarity?

Shopping trip & What’s Going On In The Garden

Today, Ken spread his seed all over the yard.  His grass seed.  He was explaining to me during our bike ride to the gardening store in Red Hook that he used a mixture of shade-loving grasses and Kentucky Blue Grass.  He’ll have to blog more about this himself – because grass isn’t really my thing.

Anyway, after he seeded the lawn, we went to Chelsea Garden Center (which is not in Chelsea, but in Red Hook.)  Specifically, I wanted to get some window boxes to hang on the bars that cover our windows.  As it turns out, the boxes hook nicely on to our fence, and now that I know this we need to get about 7 more.  The added space they’ll afford us will double the kinds of plants that we can have – so I’m excited to get a) more flowers to attract bees & butterflies and b) some smaller vegetables (cayenne peppers?).

We purchased two window boxes, 3 sizable pots (most likely for my kale, mustard greens, and cress – when the seeds come), one sage plant (because I read they attract bees, and we don’t have any sage in our pretty extensive herb collection), one shade marigold, five seed packets and 3 ferns.  The ferns are now planted behind our wine bottle garden edging in the back (depicted below).  They’ll love the shade and I hope that they fill in quickly and give the back part of our yard a distinctive woodland feel.

The sage is in one of the window boxes, and I have to decide what to put with it – maybe some more herbs?  Maybe some small peppers?  One entire window box is going to be devoted to the yellow & red strawberry seeds I already purchased.  And then we’ll go from there…

I’m excited about the seeds I bought.  They’re flowers; and this really goes back to my “roots” gardening in high school, when I pretty much just put flowers in random places around the yard and hoped they’d take off.  Now that we have a vegetable and herb garden, we will want to attract pollinators – so I appreciate the flowers for the very important purpose they serve.  I did some research and determined that good plants for attracting bees & butterflies are agastache, salvia, & lamb’s ear (obviously, among others); and good plants for repelling mosquitoes are marigold, citronella grass, and horsemint (among others.)  A lot of these plants weren’t available at the store, but I got a shade marigold plant, agastache seeds, and seeds for both French marigolds and African “Crackerjack” marigolds.  I also got a packet of gaura seeds (called “butterfly gaura”), which look pretty, delicate, and white and expressly say that they are hearty plants and attract bees and butterflies.  Lastly, I got a packet of Icelandic poppies.  I LOVE POPPIES and the variety I got appears mixed in color and ruffled in its petals (my preference is for the classic, clean red poppies – but, whatever).  I seeded the poppies just along the edge of our above ground planters Ken built, hoping they’ll add color and attract bees.  The planters are made with treated wood, so they should be okay in the rain.  They are also staked into the ground in the corners, so they should hold their shape.

We had planned on putting some of our seedlings in the beds today – but time got away from us, so we plan to tomorrow.  Here are our babies, sitting outside getting acclimated to the cooler air:

These are dill, basil, bok choy, mache verte, radish, spinach, hot peppers, peas, and three kinds of tomatoes.  I think all of these are going into the ground tomorrow (April 8), except for the tomatoes.  We have thyme growing inside, which isn’t ready yet, and some back-up plants. And our squash seeds seem to be failing indoors – so we’re going to put some of them directly into the ground.

Thyme:

Existing Plants:

While outside, I took stock of what’s been going on in the garden.  The wisteria is beginning to bloom (picture these interwoven throughout the already-blooming cherry blossoms – it’s really something to see):

Some of the rose bushes already have buds!

Our onions already look close(ish) to being ready to harvest!

The iris bulbs we planted (in the completely wrong season – they should have been done in the fall) look like they are going to come up:

We noticed the fig has some tiny figlets on it already, and we transplanted it in the hope that it will happily grow near the back of the yard and not become a fully established tree in the front where it makes no sense to have it.

We also transplanted one of our seven roses to a pot out front, to make room for the gooseberry bush I hope I’m able to grow.  I’m not sure it’s going to make it.  Some of its younger leaves look wilted after the transplanting.  We watered it and fed it compost and have our fingers crossed.

And our many mints, lavender, and rosemary are doing just fine.

The sunflower seeds I planted are sprouting – so excited!

And the chamomile and cilantro seeds I put into one of our window boxes two weeks ago have started sprouting as well.

FINALLY, I planted a shady flower mix around the back edge of our yard (which, last year, was a wasteland) and these seeds seem to have taken off!  I’m really looking forward to life & color back there this year.

To find out more about plants that repel mosquitoes, click here.

To find out more about plants that attract pollinators, click here (NYT) and here.

My friend’s Brussels Griffon, Max, helped me to blog this, as I was dogsitting him this weekend.  He has a blog and you can view it here.  🙂

Garden 2.0 (2012)

What’s most exciting about this year’s garden is starting from scratch, starting to make it ours, and learning as we go.  It was great last year to have inherited a fixer-upper, and to have reaped some extra veggies as a result.  But, this year, I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do on our own.

Some of it requires some vision and planning (and charting), but there’s definitely a significant dose of “plant some stuff and see what happens.”  For example, we are keeping these charts of our seedlings, so that we know in which sections we planted them and when:

We bought a seed-starting kit, and if you’re reading this I also recommend saving any tiny plastic containers you can (they’re all great for seed-starting).  I, for one, eat a lot of raspberries and blackberries and we’ve found those plastic containers – which happen to come pre-perforated at the bottom- perfect for starting seeds.

One of the two seed starting kits we used was from Burpee (and a lot of people I’ve spoken to you have used this, with success, as well.)  And we purchased a different, but similar one, at Sprout Home Brooklyn (the best place on earth if you like to garden or just like plants, in general.)

We’ve also learned (quaint and a fun DIY) that you can start your seeds in eggshells and newspaper (though I’ve read about both being less-than-ideal, so we stuck with what we bought at the store and what plastic containers we recycled from home.)

Here’s the rundown of the new plants we are growing from seed or have already sown in the yard.

Sunflower

Black-eyed Susan vine

Nasturtium

Chamomile

Cilantro

Thyme

Chives

Basil

Dill

Onion

Radish

Hot Pepper

Summer Squash

Tomato (Black Krim, Reisentraube, and Brandywine)

Bok Choy

Spinach

Mache-verte D’Etampes (Corn Salad)

Garden Pea

Rosemary

And, though I’ll write more about our process for growing seeds indoors later, here is what some of our baby plants look like after having been transplated from the seed starting kit to larger containers – but before being transplanted to the beds outside.

We’ve also seen reappearances of three different kinds of mint and our lavender!  It’s an herb-heavy garden, and I’m hoping to get (maybe) some Kale in there, at least, and some strawberries in a window box.  The other secret dream is a berry bush – but having failed at cultivating a blueberry bush in high school, I know how tricky those can be.

We also have two seed mixes that we plan to strategically place in the yard.  First, there’s a wildflower shade mix that I’ve already spread around the back perimeter of the yard (where it’s mostly shady all summer on account of the cherry tree & wisteria – and thus normally a mud pit).  Second, and my favorite, are two vials of “Colorado Wild Flowers” that were gifts to all of the wedding guests at a wedding we attended near Aspen this fall.  These were gorgeous but, I recall, sun-loving, so we are going to try to grown them in pots – which will hopefully appear haphazard, rustic, and charming 🙂

The veggies

When we moved in late July, there were tomatoes, eggplant, squash, corn, and zucchini more-or-less making the best of a bad situation in our new backyard.

As testament to the possibility that we may be living on radioactive, toxic, mutant Gowanus soil, we plucked this freak zucchini out of our yard in August:

The corn we ultimately uprooted and discarded.  While it was kind of pretty and immediately evocative of a sort of Americana nostalgia (or, in the alternative, horror film creepiness) – it was also big and floppy (in a bad way) and the corn cobs that it produced were atrophied and not really worth the yard space:

The tomatoes, on the other hand, were plentiful and healthy and of many varieties.  It was such a pleasant surprise to find some interesting heirloom varieties (which I’ve tried to recreate in this year’s garden).

Last year’s heirloom:

I think we sliced up the above tomato (and those like him) and ate them for what they were.  But we had quite a few tomatoes last year, and so we wound up making a lot of delicious, spicy tomato sauces.

Some of our other tomatoes:

This year, we’ve stared our tomatoes from seed (ripping the old ones out of the ground once the season ended – as you’re supposed to.)  We are looking forward to:

Reisentraube Tomato

This old German heirloom was offered in Philadelphia by the mid-1800’s. The sweet red 1-oz fruit grow in large clusters, and the name means “Giant Bunch of Grapes” in German. It is probably the most popular small tomato with seed collectors, as many enjoy the rich, full tomato flavor that is missing in today’s cherry types. Large plants produce massive yields.  (Can be ordered here)

Brandywine Tomato

Brandywine, which dates back to 1885, is the heirloom tomato standard. One taste and you’ll be enchanted by its superb flavor and luscious shade of red-pink. The large, beefsteak-shaped fruits grow on unusually upright, potato-leaved plants. The fruits set one or two per cluster and ripen late—and are worth the wait. Brandywine’s qualities really shine when it develops an incredible fine, sweet flavor.  (Can be ordered here)

Black Krim Tomato

Originally from the Isle of Krim on the Black Sea in the former Soviet Union. This rare, and outstanding tomato yields 3-4″ slightly flattened dark-red (mahogany-colored) slightly maroon, beefsteak tomatoes with deep green shoulders. Green gel around seeds. Fantastic, intense, slightly salty taste (which is great for those not wanting to add salt to their tomatoes).  Black Krim is one of my best black tomatoes. Also suitable for container/patio garden. Perfect choice for slicing, salads and cooking.  (Can be ordered here)  Isn’t there something pomegranate-like about them and their dark seed spaces?

And I haven’t fully excluded the possibility of growing another variety in a pot out front 🙂  But I eat at least 1-2 tomatoes a day, on average – so there’s definitely a demand in our home that would support such a supply.