How the garden grows

Finally the garden has started to become our own little produce section. I love going out there to see how the zucchini are growing (surprisingly slowly) or to pick a few things for dinner.

So far we have carrots that are purple outside, orange inside, and beets.

Gorgeous swiss chard.

Unfortunately I don’t know what the hell to do with it. I’m not a fan of sauteed greens, and it just doesn’t seem right to toss them in a soup when it’s 92 degrees outside. So far my ideas were lasagna or green smoothies.

We have bell peppers that should eventually turn red.

And some poblano peppers that are still pretty tiny.

There are many, many tomatoes out there but they just won’t quite turn red yet. Come on babies!

The basil is going crazy. I can’t seem to make enough pesto to keep up with it, and since the tomatoes aren’t red, I can’t yet put it in the many pots of sauce I’m sure I’ll be making.

But this, this is my favorite. Our friends gave us a tiny watermelon plant in the spring and it is now about a 6-foot long sprawling vine with tiny little melons on it. They are so cute. I hope they survive.

And then there’s the enemy. Our black walnut tree is starting to drop these suckers all over.

And while it’s cool to have a nut tree, I don’t really have the patience to shell and cure them (the juice inside is like henna, it will absolutely stain everything). So they just drop like crazy all over the driveway and then we drive over them and they crack and I get really irritated. If I have to get out there in my bike helmet and shovel them into a wheelbarrow again I might lose my mind.

How does your garden grow lately?

Green fajitas

The green is in reference to the fact that all the veggies I had on hand were green, and I was so excited to use them fresh from the garden that I tossed them all in a pan and made fajitas. I even used lime juice (instead of my standard lemon) to keep with my green theme.

Green fajitas

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
1 onion, sliced
1 zucchini (or half of a whopper, in my case) sliced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons taco seasoning (mine is a combination of cumin, chili powder and salt)
Juice of one lime
salt and pepper
Flour tortillas
Extra toppings – cheese, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, tomatoes – whatever you like!

Heat the oil in a deep skillet over medium heat. Toss in the onions and peppers and let them get started.

Add the zucchini, garlic and hot peppers and saute those for another 5-10 minutes until the onions are translucent and the veggies are softened. Season with salt and pepper, and then toss in your spice mixture.

Squeeze in the lime juice and let that cook down for just a minute.

That’s it. Easy peasy. Spoon the filling into warm tortillas and add your favorite toppings. I usually use wheat tortillas, but this time I was craving regular ones so I opted for this healthier sounding kind.

The freshness of veggies straight from the garden or farmers market makes all the difference. All they need is a quick sizzle in the pan and they taste amazing.

It’s the little things

Is there anything better than a bowl of fresh watermelon in the summertime?

I bought a whole giant watermelon. And then when I got home I remembered Mike doesn’t like watermelon (aka has no soul). Oh well. More for me!

Well, there might be one thing better — roses.

The sweetest woman in my Saturday morning Nia class bought these as a congratulations gift.

And guess what. My taterpot is sprouting. Come on little mints!

Summer blooms

First of all, thank you to everyone who left a supportive comment or sent me an e-mail about my career change. It means a lot to me that the response has been overwhelmingly positive rather than questioning my sanity. I have 7 more days of work, and one very long to-do list after that. I can’t wait!

This weekend I’ve been trying to do a little maintenance on the garden, which has been hit pretty hard with storms lately. It’s either growing wildly out of control or wilting from the wind, hail, or scorching heat from the last few days.

We’ve lost a few flowers and herbs, but others are still hanging on. This bush of annuals we planted two years ago finally bloomed.

My zinnias are pretty happy.

And it looks like we’ll have lilies here pretty soon.

As for the garden, I’ve been eating wonderful red lettuce salads, while I wait for the beets and carrots to come up.

The zucchini is growing steadily in it’s own box. We hope the fact that it’s pretty shady over there will limit the number of zucchini baseball bats we have to give to our neighbors and co-workers.

Mike is pretty proud of his tomatoes, which are zooming upwards.

It might be hot, but I LOVE summer.

Loving: blooms

When I returned from vacation everything was dry, dry, dry, which is very unusual for Iowa. Springs are very rainy here (especially last year when it flooded badly), but not this year. Still, some of my blooms were hanging on for dear life, including a rose bush that has not bloomed once since we moved here. It’s usually attacked by a crazy vine, and then it gets too prickly for me to try to peel it off.

But not anymore. That sucker exploded in pink blooms. Not the tight, sturdy blooms you’re used to getting in a bouquet. But delicate petals that smell like a grandma’s floral perfume.

And the zinnia I planted on the front porch grew like a beanstalk into this beauty.

I also discovered a vendor at the farmers market who sells these wonderful little succulents and cacti. I see them all over blogs now, and I just have to buy one every time I see them.

I thought maybe if I started with a little aloe vera I could watch it grow into a big one.

Don’t tell Mike, but I’m going to have my whole little kitchen window filled with them.

Weekend gardening

I love these precious few weeks in May when everything is in bloom, but hasn’t been destroyed by heat or thunderstorms.

I especially love watching the ferns in our back yard unfurl.

The tree in our front yard is blooming, too. Most of the trees in our neighborhood are purple right now, but I love our delicate white blooms.

I planted some annuals in our side garden bed. I’m partial to white and pink vinca and these orange zinnias.

If I had more money to spend on it I would have splurged on some daisies. But my budget was basically two trays of annuals with a buy one get one free coupon. Sad face.

Aren’t these pretty?

Someone who lived here before us planted them in another part of the garden (along with several rose bushes) and now they pop up randomly here and there.

Mike’s growing some seedlings in the basement while we wait for our tomato and pepper plants to arrive from Seed Savers. I’ll keep you posted!

Garden beginnings

Over the weekend while I struggled mightily to figure out how to cut old glass bottles and remake them into some sort of glass votive, Mike got started on our garden. (By the way, that task is much more difficult than I ever thought it would be.) We’ve had various incarnations of a fence around a square of dirt in the backyard, and it usually works fine at keeping out the bunnies, chipmunks, and other critters who will otherwise nibble our plants to the roots.

But this year, Mike went all out and built us a respectable garden fence. This started a few months ago when we trekked to Home Depot and picked out wood boards and I whined about having to be there. Then he stained them to seal out the water. After they dried we went back to Home Depot in search of staple gun staples and I whined some more about having to be there. What is it about that place that instantly turns me into a 5-year-old?

Finally he got to staple on the chicken wire, arrange the fence around the dirt, and stake it to the ground. Doesn’t it look great?

He also decided to pitch our old compost bin, which was a great idea (basically a plastic tube on a bar that you could turn to mix the compost), but it just never quite functioned properly. Instead he built this two-part cinder block wall (one side for older material, one side for new). After we went to Home Depot. Again.

If you would like to build your own compost area, Mike has built an online model that you can copy.

Soon we’ll have actual plants!

Finally, she blooms

I can’t tell you how excited I am to see this gerbera bloom.

She made me wait all summer, but finally appeared last week. I have never seen a plant grow so many leaves before blooming — it was torture!

I actually did not even know this plant was there when I dug up the garden and planted new flowers in the spring. I think I accidentally pulled out a red one that had been there last summer. But at some point these leaves started sprouting and I recognized them right away as a gerbera plant. As this is my favorite flower (and in my experience they are quite finnicky) I did everything I could to encourage it to keep on growin’.

I’m also really glad I bought these red-orange-y flowers. The mix of colors is great.

I’m off to embarrass myself in a state fair competition with my co-workers. It involves a goat, a corn dog and bicycling. Awesome.

I say tomato – take some, please!

The vines groweth over in our tomato garden. I would call it just a regular garden, but all it has is tomatoes right now and boy does it ever have tomatoes. I love the yellow pear ones as you can just pop them in your mouth or toss them into a salad with a little garlic, oil and vinegar. But there are just so many of them! As soon as you pick 20 or 30 there are 20 or 30 more. So I think my office will be getting this bundle.

Tonight, I think Mike’s making a sauce out of the Amish paste variety. And I’m thinking about tackling that New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe that Orangette and others have attempted. Although given my gluttony at the Iowa State Fair over the weekend, I’m not sure I should be allowed to eat anything but tomatoes and zucchini for a long time.

Oh, and I almost forgot. I had to run to the store this morning for eggs and I decided to get a canteloupe, too. I was about to put this dinky one from California in my basket when I turned around and saw basketball-size melons from Muscatine on the other side. So I ditched the small one and was glad I did. The Iowa melon was super juicy and had a more delicate flavor than most summer melons I’ve had. Can’t wait to have a wedge for breakfast tomorrow.

First tomatoes of the year

Our tomato plants just took a major beating from one of the windiest storms I’ve seen in a while. Once of our neighbors (who has an absolutely gorgeous house) woke up to find a massive tree toppled onto their roof and through the windows of a side room. If that could happen, our poor little tomatoes hung on pretty impressively.

Anyway, the first to turn were these yellow pears.

They’re bigger than I imagined they would be, but quite tasty just split in half with a little salt sprinkled on. I’m dying for the others to finally turn from green to purple, orange and red. The ones at the farmers market are good, but they’re still not as good as home grown.