July 31, 2008 - Lettuce Leave No Ground Unplanted

I just cannot stand to have a bare spot in my garden. I'm controlling myself and not planting in the bed I'm using for trench composting, but yesterday afternoon I kept looking at the box I'd built for next years salad greens and I just couldn't stand it any longer. I grabbed the two packets of seeds I had leftover from my failed attempt at growing bunny greens in a pot in Arizona last winter, and headed for the garden. I combined the two packets, "Mesclun Spicy Mix" and "Mesclun Gourmet Greens", and scattered the seeds over the entire bed. I tamped them down with the rake, and will let them grow wherever they wish....or not, whichever is the case. If they grow, I can transplant the thinnings over in the ski-bean-pole garden, where they might benefit from a bit of shade.

Our house rabbit, Cookie, is (shall we say) spoiled. We make do with the cheap heads of iceberg, romaine and leaf lettuces from the market, while Cookie is given the "Spring Mix" at around three-bucks for a 5-ounce bag. It almost pays to drive all the way to Costco, where I can get the same thing in a one-pound container for about the same price. If I can manage to grow more of his food, it would be a huge savings.

We've had Cookie, a Netherland Dwarf, for over six years now. He'll be 7-years old in October. He's always roamed freely through our homes, until we bought the puppies this past April. Now a baby gate confines him to one room, unless we are right there to monitor his safety. I think he's finally getting used to the dogs, though. And they don't show quite as much interest in chasing him any more. When they do chase, it's more in fun than going after prey. I really think Cookie lives to antagonize them!

July 30, 2008 - Compost and Home Made Dog Food

Of course compost and dog food have nothing to do with each other, but it's a slow week in the garden.

I'm a failure at composting. I used to have a wonderful compost pile, back in the days when I had a "real" garden and a nearby neighbor with horse poop and straw. Now, living in the city, I have a bottomless barrel back behind the garden shed, and I just randomly throw the kitchen and garden scraps into it. I think it takes something like five years to decompose (not really, but it seems like it). I just don't have all the brown and green stuff to have a proper compost pile. And my almost-seventy-year-old body doesn't take kindly to the daily compost turning, anyway. It's for that reason I now do "trench composting". I just find a vacant spot in my garden, dig a hole and bury everything. By next spring it will have enriched my garden plot with little or no work on my part. It's easy right now, as I have one of the 4'x4' beds still unplanted, so I should have one very fertile plot for next year's veggies. My grandparent's always used trench composting. Grandma composted all of her potato peelings, and many times they would sprout and give her a little crop of potatoes.

My"real" garden, when I had a "real" compost pile (barely visible on the right) and about a quarter of an acre or more to grow on.

Now, on to the dog food. Annie and her brother, Otto (we call him Otter), have decided home cooking is preferable to store-bought dog food. I've tried just about every brand, dry and canned, and ended up throwing or giving most of it away. They're just six months old now, playful puppies, and I do want them to have a proper nutritious diet. So I have come up with the following recipe for home made dog food. I've been able to stock the freezer with chicken thighs at 99-cents a pound, so the cost has been comparable to purchased food. I'll probably regret it next winter, when we go to Arizona and my food bill more than doubles because of the high prices there.

I boil up an entire large package of chicken thighs (12 thighs per pkg) and freeze four to a container, covered with the unseasoned broth. I also cook and pre-chop the vegetables and freeze them in containers, as well as precooking and freezing the rice. Once a week or so, I thaw out enough for the following recipes (the breakfast oatmeal is made fresh each morning).

Annie & Otto's Dog Food (breakfast)

1/2 cup old fashioned oats, prepared with 1 cup water
1 cooked chicken thigh, diced
2 puppy vitamin tabs, crushed
1/4 tsp. powdered egg shell
chicken broth to moisten
leftover veggies from last night's dinner (optional)

Annie & Otto's Dog Food (dinner)

16 oz. cooked chicken, chopped or diced, about 3 cups (lean ground beef, turkey, etc)
12 oz. vegetables, chopped, about 2 cups
12 oz. cooked brown rice, about 2 cups
2 T. ground flax seed
2 T. powdered milk
1 tsp. ground eggshell
2 brewers yeast/garlic tab, crushed
2 T. olive oil
Cooking broth to moisten

Prepare meats by boiling, save cooking liquid. Prepare rice according to pkg. directions. Microwave/steam vegetables (leftover veggies may also be added) and chop in food processor. Add all remaining ingredients to veggies and stir just to combine. Makes four meals.

They also get a soft boiled egg several times a week (I save the shells after boiling the eggs, dry them and grind them in a coffee bean grinder to add to their meals for calcium), and let them snack on raw carrots, dried cranberries and dried apricots.

I will vary their diet at times by making them a meat loaf and freezing 8-ounce slices. It will have most of the ingredients of their dinner recipe, using lean ground beef, cooked in loaf form. NO ONIONS! Onions are poison to canines, even in small amounts.

Annie's brother, Otter

Otter looks so sad in this photo! He's really a very happy puppy, laid back and loveable. He just didn't like being told to sit still while his picture was being taken.

Today in the garden: Even on slow days I manage to find something worth picking. Here was today's take, three tomatoes, two cucumbers, a bunch of purple basil and a handful of parsley.

I needed some green onions from the grocery store, and they came in two bunches of seven onions each. I only needed two for our dinner, so I planted a dozen of them in the garden. That's a good trick for keeping green onions if you don't use very many at a time. I've always planted my extras in the garden or in a pot on the patio, to pull fresh as I need them. Of course, you have to make sure the ones you buy have a decent root system, which most do.

July 28, 2008 Evening: Everything Goes From Bad to Worse

Things just went from bad to worse this evening. It seems the older I get, the harder it is for me to multi-task. I had the zucchini bread in the oven, the Teriyaki chicken breasts on the grill, the fried zucchini browning nicely in the electric fry pan. I put the water on the stove to boil for the stir-fry veggies and noodles. That's when things went wrong. I'd turned the burner on high and set the pan of water on it, but I forgot to remove the burner cover. It was red-hot and quite scorched when I realized what I'd done. My new stainless steel burner cover is pretty much toast.

I grabbed the tongs and got the cover off the burner just as the timer went off for the zucchini bread. I dumped the veggies and noodles into the tepid water and shoved it back onto the burner, then got the loaves of bread from the oven and set them on a rack to cool, turned the zucchini, which were browning nicely, checked the chicken...it was OK.

Then I turned the bread out of the pans.

I tried to turn the bread out of the pans.

I tried to PRY the bread out of the pans.

I took the bread out of the pan in chunks. Well, not quite, but most of the bottom of each loaf stayed in the pans.

By that time the veggies/noodles were boiling over on the stove. The stove I had just cleaned thoroughly this morning.

I finally got things under control, sat down to eat and happened to look out the window. Remember all the chips I leveled this morning? Remember how I planted the grass seed? See what Annie and her brother did....

Caught in the act! That was one of three freshly dug holes. Annie was real proud of herself!
I pushed the bottoms back into the loaves of zucchini bread we had a couple of slices after dinner. It was really good, much better than the recipe I made earlier this week. I think I'll keep this one as my "recipe to go to".

Best Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
2 cups sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla
3 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a mixer, beat eggs. Add oil, applesauce, sugar, and vanilla; continue beating mixture until thick and foamy. With a spoon, stir in the zucchini and pineapple.
In a separate bowl, combine flours, baking soda, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon. Stir dry ingredients into wet ingredients. Add the walnuts and raisins.
Divide the batter equally between 2 greased and flour-dusted 5 by 9 inch loaf pans. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.

July 28, 2008

I'm so tired of looking at that pile of wood chips in the back yard, where they ground out the stump from the maple tree. I don't know why the tree removal company left it for us to clean up after they charged us nearly $2500 to remove the tree. I did ask them to leave the wood for a neighbor with a wood burning stove, but I didn't ask for the chips. I've spread as many as I could around the new veggie garden, which does make nice, clean pathways.

Then there's the remains of the yard of compost I bought earlier this month. I'd like to be able to save it for later use, but it's also smack-dab in the middle of my back yard. So, rake in hand, I leveled out the chips as best I could, then raked the compost over them as far as it would reach, then scattered some grass seed over the top. If it grows it grows, if it doesn't grow...well, I really did want to put a row of raspberries there next spring.

Before I spread the compost, I bucketed a bunch of it into the garden and top dressed every bed I could reach. I pushed it in around the tomatoes and the peppers, and spread it over all the unplanted areas of the new raised beds. I piled some up next to the dog run, and planted the remainder of my "Kentucky Wonder" pole beans there. I still had a dozen or so seeds left after the ski pole planting, and I hate to waste anything. Of course, after they were planted, I remembered we are going to have to move the kennel to rebuild the back fence...if the insurance money ever comes through for that.

Which brings me back to the tree, the wood chips and the huge hole in the fence. It's been nearly a month since the windstorm, and Safeco still hasn't come through with any money for the tree removal or the damage to three fences.

Where I'd removed the bush bean plants yesterday, I planted a short row of beets and a wide row of carrots. I'm determined to use up all the old seed I've been hoarding so I can start fresh next spring. A close inspection of the north bed showed all the bush beans and beets doing well, but only half the row of lettuce showing and spotty germination of the carrots. I let the carrots be, as it's too early to tell if more will sprout, but I replanted the bare spots in the lettuce row.

We ate most of the ripe tomatoes last night. My, they were delicious! Grandson Kevin was visiting for dinner, and he and Mr. H. devoured that huge cucumber I picked yesterday. We also had the green beans I'd picked earlier, and they were so good just boiled with some onion, then tossed with butter, salt and pepper. The new potatoes came from a nearby farmer's market, freshly dug (the dirt still clinging to them), but the parsley I put on them was from the garden. I was hungry for comfort food, so I made Porcupine Meatballs to go with all of our fresh veggies.

Porcupine MeatballsServes 6

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound extra lean ground beef
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice
2 slightly beaten egg whites
1 tablespoon snipped parsley
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 10¾-ounce can condensed tomato soup
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Combine meat, rice, egg, parsley, onion, salt, dash pepper, and 1/4 cup condensed tomato soup. Mix well; shape into 12 large meatballs (1/4 cup mixture for each) or 18 small meatballs and brown in hot oil in skillet. Transfer meatballs to a casserole dish. Pour grease from pan; mix remaining soup, water, and Worcestershire in pan and bring to boil; pour over meatballs. Cover and bake for 1 hour.

Annie thinks it's her job to prewash the dishes before they go through the dishwasher. She's such a neatnik!

I'm up to my ears in zucchini again today, so I'll bake some zucchini bread and make fried zucchini for dinner. Mr. Husband loves fried zucchini, even though it's certainly not the healthiest way to consume it.

July 27, 2008

Today I picked three nice "Celebrity" tomatoes, a meal's worth of green beans, two zucchinis and a very large cucumber that I had missed earlier.

I pulled out all but the front two rows of the bush beans from the spring planting, as they still were not producing enough to bother with. All of today's harvest came from the later planting of leftover seed. I added about 3" of compost to the area and will plant beets and carrots there. It's probably getting too late for them, but this is a trial and error period of learning for me, to see just how late I can extend the garden season. All the bean vines went into the compost.

July 26, 2008

I picked the first of the "Celebrity" tomatoes that were planted in May. Also transplanted some marigolds from the front yard that were interfering with a sprinkler. One looks good the rest look wilted. My neighbor, Pat gave me another pepper plant from the pony pack she had bought on sale, so I planted it with the herbs and marigolds. I fear it's too late to produce, but I'll give it a try.

I made a pole bean tepee that cost me nothing. I found an old ski pole in the garage and I pushed it into the center of one of the garden boxes, then I drove 1' stakes in each of three corners and half way between each stake (I left one corner open for the cucumber I had transplanted there). Then I tied garden twine through holes I had drilled in the stakes and attached the twine to the top of the ski pole. I’m sure the pole isn't tall enough for pole beans, so I'll have to buy a long bamboo pole to attach to it before the beans get that far. I had a partial package of leftover "Kentucky Wonder" pole bean seeds, so I soaked them for two hours, then planted around 7 stakes to climb garden twine. I placed the seeds on top of soil & covered them with 2" of compost. I used the deeper planting, as the bush beans I planted earlier kind of came to the surface in places.

I planted a hill of "Early Golden Summer" crookneck squash that were leftover from the spring seed packet. I planted three seeds in a hill of compost at the south end of the garden, as the squash plants planted earlier have just about outgrown their space, and removed the boards from the carrots, as they are beginning to germinate.

July 25, 2008

The beans, beets & lettuce sown on July 18 have already begun to pop up! I put a board over the carrots today to make sure they don’t dry out before they germinate.

I’m getting more zucchini. I’ve made zucchini bread, fried zucchini, zucchini-potato pancakes, zucchini pie and sautéed zucchini with onions and green beans. Now I’m searching for more recipes!

Zucchini Bread
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup unsweetened applesauce
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups grated zucchini, do not drain
1 cup chopped walnuts

Grease and flour two 8 x 4 inch pans. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C).
Combine flours, salt, baking powder, soda, and cinnamon together in a bowl.
Beat eggs, oil, vanilla, applesauce and sugars together in a large bowl. Add sifted ingredients to the creamed mixture, and beat well. Stir in zucchini and nuts until well combined.
Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake for 40 to 60 minutes (mine takes 45 minutes), or until tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for 20 minutes. Remove bread from pan, and completely cool.
Or eat it while warm!

I made a zucchini pie, but it didn't have much taste so I deleted the recipe.

July 20, 2008

We constructed the fence today. It took exactly 50-feet of the wire fencing, the amount on one roll. What a relief to know the garden will be safe from the puppies! The other smashed fence won’t get replaced until after the vegetables in that bed are all harvested and the plants pulled out. Until then, I’ll just have to put up with those boards propping it up.

I went to The Flower Farm and purchased one plant of “Italian Flat Leaf” parsley ($2.00), one plant of “Arp” rosemary ($2.00) and one plant of “Purple Ruffles” basil ($2.00). The parsley and basil had several stems that had gone to seed and the roots were compacted. I shouldn’t have paid so much for an annual plant (basil), but I wanted some quick color in the garden. The rosemary was a nice healthy looking plant, but a bit small. I lost last year’s rosemary to a hard frost, so hope to have better luck with this one.

July 18, 2008

I planted an entire packet of “Kentucky Wonder” bush green beans (NK, no cost, gift from neighbor) in the first bed (north) spacing them 4” apart in all directions. That took up over half of that bed. Next in the same bed, I planted two rows of “Red Ace Hybrid” beets (Ed Hume, $1.99 pkt.), a 6-inch wide row of “Scarlet Nantes” carrots (Ed Hume, $1.49 pkt.), and one row of “Red Sail” lettuce (Ed Hume, $1.99 pkt.). I put the carrot seed in a jar, poked some small holes in the top and shook them over the six-inch wide row. Hopefully that will space them more sparsely than tapping them from the packet.

Harvested some crookneck squash & zucchini from the spring planting. The zucchini is prolific enough, the crookneck is delicious, but have only picked about four so far.

“Burpee's Stringless Green Pod” bush beans (spring planting) are disappointing, I’m not getting enough per picking for a meal. I tore out the back row and I’m letting the later plantings take over, which were leftover seeds from previous years. I think those were “Tendergreen” and “Contender“.

Larger pots of bush cucumbers are producing, but a plant in a smaller pot on the patio just has a lot of blossoms, I will move it into the new garden. I’ve already picked a half dozen nice sized cucumbers from the larger plants.

I purchased 50' of wire fence and 8 metal fence posts to keep the puppies out of the garden, as they are loving to dig in the new beds of compost. Hopefully we'll get the fence up soon.

Garden Diary 2008

I’ve gardened for all of my married life until 2004, when I was diagnosed with colon cancer and had to have abdominal surgery. I’d felt so ill that spring that I tore out my lovely little garden, which was right outside the kitchen door, and planted grass. For the next three years I pouted about not having my vegetable garden, but didn’t feel well enough to tackle it until spring of 2008. I started small, just a three-foot wide strip next to the fence at the east side of our property, and a small space next to the fence on the west side, next to my two blueberry bushes. I planted three "Celebrity" tomatoes, two red bell peppers (six more went into flower gardens in the front yard), a double row of Burpee bush beans, each row about 8’ in length and planted three more rows, each two weeks apart, using leftover seed from 2004. I also planted one hill (4 seeds) of yellow crookneck squash, one hill (4 seeds) of zucchini, and a tiny two-square-feet patch of mixed lettuce for the pet rabbit. In the blueberry bed I planted two cherry tomatoes and two pots of bush cucumbers.

Everything was growing well, although I lost a few of the large bean plants and half of the squash seedlings to cutworms. I protected two of each squash plants with cutworm collars made of toilet tissue rolls, and never saw any more damage. Then, on July 1, we had a couple of very strong wind gusts that split our large maple tree in half, and the entire east garden was crushed under a huge branch.

We had to call a tree removal company to remove the entire maple tree, and they were quite careful when they lifted the branches off the garden. Quite a few of the bean plants were wiped out, and a few stems broke off the zucchini plants, but there wasn’t a lot of damage otherwise. Of course, the fence was crushed, giving our two puppies access to the garden, so they found the bed of lettuce was a lovely, cool place to nap and nibble.

I immediately purchased new fencing (under $100 for materials) and moved it further into the yard to give me space for some raised beds. I had quite a bit of lumber in the garage, saved from several years ago when we removed a deck from the back of our house. It was good redwood, 2x6 lumber, and enough to build four 4’x4’x12” deep beds and one 3‘x4‘x6“-deep bed that I‘ll use for shallow rooted greens. I purchased a yard of top soil for $18 and a yard of “leaf and twig” composted steer manure for $20. That was a good buy, as I had asked for regular compost but they were out, so they gave me the more expensive blend at the same price.

I had planned on leaving the beds empty until next spring, adding lots of chopped up leaves and more compost later this fall. But…I couldn’t resist. So here is a diary of my garden, my very first summer planted garden. I’m hoping I have a harvest before winter.