Tag Archives: Garden

Thumbless in Lynchburg

Taco salad for lunch, from leftovers.

You never really understand how much you use your thumbs until you don’t have them. Well, I don’t, anyway.  I’ve injured my left thumb, which is making typing a bit challenging. So, I’m going to give you the bullet-points and a pretty picture that has nothing to do with post, but which I hope will keep you distracted from the general lack of content!

Garden update: Our tomatoes only did so-so this year. We got a great early crop, but the storm that knocked out our entire state also severely damaged many of our plants. We do have some late tomatoes that we’re force-ripening right now, hopefully before frost, and we’ll pick the rest of the green ones and store them.  The leeks made it through nicely and will be harvested after the first frost.  We’ll be cutting down the stalks on the sun chokes next week, and bringing in the first harvest of those, storing the remainder in the ground and digging as needed. The rest of the kale and chard will be planted today,  though it should have been done a few weeks ago. We’ll have to hold our breath and see if it grows.

On the Menu is on hiatus this week, but will return next week.

Continuing education. For those that ask about how to do what I do, one of the really important things is continuing education. Cooking is a skill that can be honed with practice, but to give the most to clients, staying up on the science of food and biology is important. In the next 6 months, I’ll be taking many of my continuing ed courses, including several classes on diet and nutrition, a physiology class, a pharmaceutical drug and interactions class, and a few others.

And, that does it for the day, as I take a break and ice my thumb.


From the Archives: Silken Squick

For those folks in the VA area who garden, there’s a friend many of us have helping us out. This year, I have about 10 of these friends, all very likely related to the one lovely lady I had helping me out last year. My garden is aphid free, without any pesticides.

“I am conflicted. I know she’s good for the garden: she eats aphids and grasshoppers, two of my biggest tomato-eating culprits.Read more…

From the Garden: Lavender for Later

Lavender is easy to grow, and is good for more than just it’s pretty flower and pleasant smell.

It makes a wonderful, relaxing tea for those nights you can’t sleep or are stressed, and the chilled tea (in addition to being yummy) makes a wonderful compress for red or puffy skin.  From cookies to chicken, the unexpected, aromatic smell and unique flavor is a great seasoning for many things. We like to add it to lemonade and iced tea, too.


To dry, just tie together in a bundle, as shown, and hang upside down until the flowers are completely dehydrated. The time for this will vary a great deal, depending on how much moisture is in the air.


Garden in May

We’ve had some great weather for this year’s garden. Plenty of rain (keeping our water bills low!), a decent amount of sunshine, not too hot despite a few odd days. All and all, my plants are happy.

In addition to the obvious concerns of what would grow well for us, our garden plan for the year was to grow things according to the following criteria:

1. We had to be able to grow enough of it in our small space to actually do something with. Low-yield things that take up space, like bush beans, were ruled out.

2. It had to save us money. This meant super cheap and readily available items, like zucchini, were out. We can buy local, sustainable zucchini and yellow squash in abundance at a very low cost.

3. It had to be something that we would either use most of while in season, or that we could readily preserve for winter.  This meant not an overabundance of delicate greens that didn’t freeze or can well.

4. It had to fit into a rotational plan that would let us make maximum use of the garden for all 4 seasons.

5. We wanted to do as much heirloom as possible. We did use some non-heirloom, but only where it was impossible to get heirlooms (sunchokes being the best example).

What we came up with for the spring/summer rotation was a whole bunch of tomatoes (almost all from last year’s seed), leeks (which we love but are super expensive here), snap peas (which take almost no room and are prolific producers), some high-yield hard winter squashes, sunchokes (very expensive, hard to get, but ridiculously easy to grow), various greens, carrots, and onions.  As some of these are harvested, we have plans for the fall and winter crops to go in.

And here’s how it looks so far:

The leeks are doing incredibly well. We have three rows, which should give us enough to use and freeze.

Our sorrel is out of control. We love it, but holy cow. This is only 4 plants, and we’re having a difficult time keeping up. I’ve already begun freezing it for winter!

We have about 30 tomato plants. This wasn’t intentional. I’d planted some that were really pretty spindly, and so planted some extra thinking the less-hardy ones would die. We only lost one plant total. We’re going to need more canning jars.

We’re using the California weave method to support the tomatoes.

I didn’t get pictures of anything else because it started to rain; but, I promise, there’ll be more later. The herb garden is going especially crazy, and I need to do some pruning before it gets entirely out of hand. My carrots have failed entirely for some unknown reason. Not a single sprout. No idea why, but I’ll give it another try. And, my basil is awful (I’ll be planting new basil plants this coming week).

How is your garden growing?

Gardening! It’s the Thought That Counts.

We are very lucky to have awesome landlords who let us till up (actually, helped us till up) about a third of our backyard for a garden. It happened late last year because they hadn’t realized we wanted a garden, and we hadn’t realized they’d be okay with us doing something so dramatic. This meant we didn’t have time to do our own starters, or even plan much, though it all turned out well in the end. Who can argue with fresh heirloom tomatoes right out of the backyard, right?

This year, we obviously know it’s coming and can be a bit more ambitious. This weekend, we put together our seed order from seedsavers.org, and I’ve started figuring out how much we can reasonably grow and put by. Our garden space isn’t big enough to feed us entirely, but it can go a long way towards supplementing our food budget and our health. This year, we also have access to a greenhouse with warming mats to start our seedlings! And, speaking of seedlings, it’s just about time to get some of them started. By the time our seeds arrive, it’ll be perfect.

So what are we growing, and why? I’m not going to go into the planting schedule yet, as I’m still working on the rotation schedules so we can garden in all seasons; but, here’s what we plan on harvesting in what season (obviously, some of these will start in one season and carry through to another, weather depending):

Spring: Greens (spinach, various lettuces), peas. With luck, blueberries from my potted plants!

Summer: tomatoes (several varieties), beets (these will be interval planted for continuous harvest), carrots, some greens (shade planting), leeks (late), radishes.

Fall: Beets, leeks, turnips, radishes, carrots, sunchokes, Australian Butter and Thelma Saunders squashes, kale, second planting of peas, fall crop of lettuces, tomatoes.

Overwinter in the ground or harvest late/cold storage: leeks, kale, carrots, spinach, squash, beets, turnips, green tomatoes, winter radishes, and sunchokes.

We’re doing all heirlooms, and as much organic as we can get our grubby little hands on. This is a far more ambitious undertaking than last year, but I think the payoff will be worth it. We elected to do high-yield varieties of squash and peas, and the sunchokes are also high-yield as a general rule. Our goal was to do a lot of fresh diversity in small quantities we can eat at harvest, and larger quantities of limited “staples” so we have enough to actually be usable for a good part of the winter. Some things, like squash, only get better with storage (to a point, obviously), and so we are really looking forward to these. Some things, like sunchokes, store just fine in the ground (and, in fact, are made better by freezing); so, we can have the produce without taking up all of our rather limited cold storage.

We’re also going to move some of our “cold storage” around next year. Squash prefer slightly warmer, drier temperatures than, say apples; so, we’re going to store them in another area. Our once concern is that our cold storage won’t be cold enough, which has actually been a problem this year. While I appreciate the warmer winter both from a personal stand point (I don’t like the cold much, hence I moved south) and a financial angle (our heating bills have been about half what they were the last few years), it is taking a toll on the apples. We’re going to have to sauce them out soon.

I spent a lot of this weekend going over two of my favorite books: Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits and Vegetables, and Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage and Preservation. There is a bit of modification that goes on for us, since both books (especially the latter book) is written with the general assumption of a colder climate than Virginia generally has. The hardest part of cellaring here isn’t, as in the north, the worry of freezing–it’s the worry of spoilage due to warmth.  But, both books are very useful for anyone who is interested in putting up food. The Root Cellaring book in particular is a great resource for cold storage methods (did you know hard squashes need to be cured before they get put into cold storage?), duration food can be expected to last, what you should and should not store together and why, and all kinds of other neat stuff.

I’ll be doing a layout and schedule soon, and I’ll post them here. I’d love to see your gardens, your planning methods, and your storage hopes and dreams, too!

Eating Well, Sourcing Foods, and What Can We Do?

Thadd and I had The Talk again. We have versions of this talk quite often, really: What can we do to eat and live a more healthful life?

It’s not as easy to answer as it sounds. Some days–most days, in fact–it feels like we here in the US have very limited control over many of the things that impact our health.  From the water we drink, to the food we eat, to the air we breathe. Every day in my research for clients, I find more things that pose serious health risks to myself and those I love, and often those things are very, very difficult to get away from: the pipes that are used to bring water into our home, for example.

Everyone has their limitations. We rent, and will have to do so for the forseeable future due to the need to move for Thadd’s schooling. We live, therefore, on a budget that also must support his school. We live in an area that isn’t terribly progressive; and, while there is abundant farmland, the products of it are often difficult to acquire or limited in scope. Most farmers here do not plant year-round, even though the climate is suitable, and we have only a small space for our own garden.

There are other challenges, but we do our best to work around or mitigate them. We do have a small garden (which I desperately need to get out and harvest again–our beets are getting overgrown), we order our meat in bulk, we preserve as much food as we can reasonably store. We continue to look for ways to do more.

On the up side, we have some advantages: space for food storage and a deep freezer, a small backyard and awesome landlords that let us have a garden, a rural community that does grow at least some of it’s own food, local farmers who take pride in what they do, a growing community awareness of local food, and a significant other that is also passionate about local and healthy foods.

I would love to hear the challenges and advantages others have, whether they’re personal, geographical, financial, or another -al I haven’t thought of here.

Fall-ing Behind

I really dislike the whole dark-by-5PM thing that happens in winter. It just messes with my internal clock. Generally, I get into my PJs, all ready to go to bed, and realize it’s like 7 o’clock. At least this year we’ll have garden-fresh greens and roots to brighten our plates, so to speak. In that vein, Charlotte packed up her bags and left us a few weeks ago.Right about that time, though, we had a new visitor. I found her sitting on top of our trash can:

She sat there, posing for me, following me with her eyes:

Now, I’m no entomologist, but to me it looks like those are pupils. Staring at me. It was weird, but also very beautiful. And, of course, these creatures are welcome in my yard anytime, and I’m really hoping she laid eggs somewhere close to the garden. I was actually considering buying eggs, so this could save me some money!

And, hopefully, she ate a few crickets while she was here, because we’re still seeing them and I’d like my leafy greens to stay leafy:

Not the best picture in the world, but you get the idea. This was a few weeks ago, and I really need to get out there while the weather is good and get a few more pictures now that the plants are much bigger. But, this is the basic gist. Fall gardening in VA is incredibly easy, yet I see so few people bother, even those that garden with zeal in the summer months. I think it actually takes less work in the fall, since there are fewer pests, but then again, we like a lot of the fall and winter crops that many Americans don’t seem inclined to eat anymore: beets, turnips, radishes, kale. We did have to cover out plants up last night to protect them from frost, which made me sad. I’m just not a winter kinda girl in anything other than veggies!

Is anyone else out there gardening?