Friday, December 17, 2010

Sweet Nantes

I just dug up the last of this year's carrots. Why don't I ever plant enough to make it through the winter??? The last harvest is always full of the tiny rejects... the little carrots I didn't bother pulling in earlier harvests. They still taste good -- tiny but sweet. I like nantes, so that is what I plant. They are super sweet and crisp, and I have had good luck growing them in very loose soil, both at home and at alleycat acres. Don't bother if you have any sort of hard pan. Carrots like their soil loose, and won't stand for it any other way. 
Carrots are nice for us urban gardeners because they store best in the ground. Plant them in late summer and leave them outside all winter long, harvesting only what you need. To protect against hard frost, just give them a good mulch before the snow comes (don't bother if you live in a mild climate).

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Kale two ways -- both spicy

 Supposedly kale is one of those "super foods" that is super good for you. For many people this is a motivating factor to eat the stuff, but for me it is a bit of a put off. When I hear that I should eat a food because it is good for me, I automatically conjur up images of bitter, tough, chalky, not-good-tasting foods. I don't eat kale because my mom or doctor or nutritionist say I should, but rather I eat it because 1) when prepared well, it is delicious, and 2) it is really easy to grow in the home garden*.

Admittedly, when prepared poorly, kale is a god awful, disgusting food, and I pity the child whose mother makes her eat it. At its worst: tough, leathery, bitter leaves. At its best: tender, hearty, rich and complex flavor.

This weekend I clipped several leaves off my 'Lacinato' kale plants*, and tried two new ways of preparing it. I made a spicy minestrone of white beans and kale, and also a kale salad with a spicy peanut dressing.

The kale salad is actually a recipe that was sent to me by a reader early last summer. I finally got around to making it, and it was a hit at my house. Definitely something I will continue to make throughout the winter.

Spicy kale and white bean minestrone.
Unfortunately I don't remember exactly how I made it, but I sorta remember.
1 onion diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 12oz can white beans (rinsed)
1 bunch kale (about 9 lacinato leaves), chopped or torn into bite-size pieces
handful of roasted tomatoes, use a 12oz can if you don't have these in your freezer
2.5 cups chicken broth
1 cup uncooked pasta
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red pepper
Olive oil 
Parmesan cheese rind (if you have around)

Sweat out the onions in olive oil until they are translucent. Add the crushed garlic, salt and red pepper flakes. Cook until the garlic becomes fragrant (about 30 seconds), then add the kale. Stir in the kale to coat with olive oil. Let it begin to wilt before adding white beans, tomatoes, chicken broth, and cheese rind. Let simmer for about 20 minutes, then add pasta. continue cooking until pasta is al dente. Serve with grated parmesan and/or a drizzle of good olive oil.

*A note about growing kale at home: aphids LOVE it! Since the plant is so hardy, aphids won't actually kill it, but a leaf covered in insects is not appetizing. I control the aphids by blasting them with a strong stream of water from the hose. Spray the stems and under the leaves to get those bugs where it hurts. Do this a couple times a week (not a one time deal).

*'Lacinato' is an Italian heirloom kale variety (AKA 'Dinosaur', 'Tuscan', 'Black', and 'Nero di Tuscano'). It is easy to start from seed, flavorful, and frost tolerant.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


Dahlias make me happy. Dahlias have exquisite, long-lasting blooms in late summer and early fall, when pretty much everything else is finished. The flowers in the pictures below are from bulbs I bought at the Northwest flower and garden show last February. Dahlia bulbs might be a bit on the pricey side (around $5-$20 per bulb depending on the variety), but it sure beats buying them at the market, and they come back every year.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

October garden

It is October, and the weather has officially changed. The crisp air has me dreaming of pumpkin butter and pot roast, however this is the time when summer exits with a big hurrah. Tomatoes are ripe and overwhelming our kitchens. The last of the cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, basil, apples, and beans all need to be harvested before the first frost kills them off. Unless you are stocking up for a canning project, for home gardeners there is little need to visit a farmer's market this time of year.

Speaking of canning projects, what are you doing with your extra tomatoes? Recently I have been hearing of people freezing their tomatoes. This is a new one for me. Anybody know the pros and cons of freezing vs. canning? I have more tomatoes than I know what to do with and am toying with the idea of doing something other than canning this year. Please write in and let me know what you think/know.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Eggplant: can you believe it?

I managed to produce an eggplant crop this year. Given our cold, wet summer, I think that this is something to brag about, so please forgive my boast.

Back in late May I planted several Italian eggplants (both Dark beauty and Rosa bianca) at the South Treatment Plant GroCo demonstration garden. I crossed my fingers and hoped for a warm summer like last year. Apparently crossing ones fingers is useless, because we got terrible weather this summer. The cold and rain squelched any expectations I had for good tomatoes, cucumbers, and eggplant.

Lo and behold, I got great harvests of all three crops. I think this success was due to a combination of full sun exposure, excellent soil, and good heat retention at the site (lot's of concrete surrounding the garden perimeter).

Last Thursday we had a luncheon to show off the demonstration garden, educate folks about biosolids compost, and to enjoy the late summer bounty. The eggplant dish I made got rave reviews, and I promised that I would share the "recipe" here. The nice thing about this dish is that it somehow eliminates the bitter and slime that sometimes plagues eggplant.

Roasted Eggplant a la Kate

  • Eggplant diced into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Olive oil
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • garlic
  • fresh herbs

The truth is, I don't actually have a recipe. I make this up every time, but it always comes out delicious. Here is the gist of what I do:

Preheat oven to 375. Spread out cubed eggplant on a rimmed baking sheet, sprinkle with salt, drizzle with olive oil, mix with hands to coat.
Roast for approximately 45 minutes, or until soft and tender.
While eggplant is roasting, whip up a vinaigrette dressing. I usually use about 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/8 cup vinegar, 3 cloves minced garlic, a teaspoon of sea salt, and a tablespoon of minced fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary. 
After the eggplant is finished roasting, transfer it to a nice bowl and toss with dressing. 
If I have basil growing in the garden or windowsill, I like to add a good amount at the very end. 
Allow the eggplant to marinate in this dressing overnight before digging in. 

My favorite way to eat this dish is on an antipasto platter, on pizza, and in mediterranean-themed green salads (think arugula, garbanzo beans, parmesan cheese, shaved fennel, diced red onion, carrot, etc...). 

baby Rosa bianca eggplant developing at the GroCo demo garden

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Kids come for a visit

Last week my cousin's kids (ages 13 and 15) came up from Santa Cruz for a visit.

Ben, Jan, and the Fremont troll, who lives under the Aurora bridge

We had a really good time seeing the sites. Highlights included kayaking by the arboretum, watching the salmon run at the Ballard locks, blackberry picking, try to find our house from the top of the space needle, picknicking on rattlesnake ledge, and making late-night s'mores in the back yard. 

We also ate really well:

The first night we grilled big, juicy burgers and corn on the cob. I also sauteed some pak choi from the garden, which the kids decided wasn't too bad.

While Jacob and Ben were busy throwing the ball into lake union for our dog, Guthrie, Jan and I picked blackberries. Everyone was happy when I served this blackberry crisp and blackberry ice cream for dessert. The crisp only took about 15 minutes of prep time, and was really delicious (recipe is below). 
Blackberry crisp with blackberry ice cream.
The next day I tried to grill tri-tip, but the butcher was out. He assured me that the top sirloin was almost identical, and I could prepare is exactly as I would tri-tip. Boy was he wrong! The top sirloin is much leaner and tougher than the tri-tip. Considering that everyone at the table was a native Californian (the kids, my husband, and me), we were all very aware that what we were eating was not tri-tip... so don't be fooled by the top sirloin, no matter what your butcher says.

While I was outside grilling the meat, the kids made this beautiful caprese salad. Tomatoes and basil were both home grown, so needless to say, it was delicious and sweet. Before eating we finished the salad with some sea salt, extra virgin olive oil, and some sweet balsamic vinegar.

Blackberry crisp
4 cups blackberries
2 Tbsp sugar (more or less depending on the sweetness of your fruit)
juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp + 1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 stick butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Gently coat the blackberries in 3 Tbsp of flour, the sugar, and the lemon juice. Spread berry mixture evenly in the bottom of a baking dish.
In a food processor, blend the remaining flour, oats, brown sugar, and butter. Once combined, sprinkle this mixture over the berries.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes, or until the crust is brown and crispy, and the berries are warm and bubbly.
Let the crisp rest for 30 minutes before serving to let the fruit set and cool.

**Next time I might add lemon zest to the berries to give it some extra zing, and cut the sweetness.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

terrarium class

Ever wonder how people get those big plants into narrow-necked terrarium containers? So did I.
The other night I learned how at a terrarium-making class held at The Palm Room, in Ballard.
It was fun (and educational).


Below is a video I like on how to make a terrarium. This video instructs us on how to make a terrarium, using containers with a relatively wide opening (read: a lot easier!).

Friday, August 6, 2010

back yard transformation part IV

I haven't posted about the back yard progress in quite some time now (sorry mom), so i thought that I would do an update.

As a reminder: we started with a concrete pad, which was mostly covered by a weird shed/carport structure
After the shed came down, we hammered and hauled away the concrete.

Jacob spent time regrading and refurbishing our retaining wall, which gained us another 10 feet (or so) of property towards the alley. Given the size of our lot, those 10 feet make a big difference.

I built raised beds for vegetables.
May 2010
Jacob built steps leading from the alley up to the yard... with very heavy stones.
May 2010

We had a fence built. Brandon oversaw the operation, and helped me with design decisions.
July 2010
Brandon and Jacob have continued regrading the slopes, through a process we affectionately refer to as "spirit raking". Planting beds, patio space, and pathways are beginning to reveal themselves.

Now (August 2010)
The veggies have grown in the boxes I built earlier in the summer.

Next steps: 
Continue spirit raking.
Finish steps leading up to yard from gate.
Install lots of rock and gravel for the patio and paths (Brandon would like many of the paths to look like rocky dry stream beds - amazing).
Go plant shopping

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day at the demo garden

Today was fabulous.
As some of you may remember one of my summer jobs is that I designed, planted, and have been tending to a demonstration garden at King County's south treatment plant.

Everything is in bloom and looking beautiful (my babies are all grown up).  

When I got to the garden today I witnessed the most intense aphid infestation. Where do those buggers come from??? I immediately saw that my work was cut out for me. Why was this good news??? This was good news because it meant that I needed to spend the entire day fighting the aphids and nursing my injured plants back to health. That's right, the ENTIRE day in the garden.

These sungold tomatoes made for a
delicious snack at about 4pm.

To combat the aphids I used a STRONG spray of water on the plants. This is an effective way to kill the bugs, but it also beats up the plants a bit. After the water spray I misted the plants with a diluted soapy water solution, which also kills aphids. This works because the aphid's soft bodies desiccate due to the soap.

Lady bugs came in to help me with my work.

South treatment plant (in Renton) is having an open house this Saturday August 7th, from 10am to 1pm. I will be there giving tours of the demonstration garden, and giving away free bags of GroCo compost to the first 50 people who arrive. Please come to say hi and see what I've been up to this summer.

I love honey bees
Dark beauty eggplant
So many cucumbers!
I love the juxtaposition between the beautiful and soft flowers
against the industrial wastewater treatment plant.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

garden design

I love watching personalities come out in the garden. While some people are neat, tidy, and controlled, others are wild, weedy, and untamed. Most of us fall somewhere in between.
While I am a vegetable-focused gardener, I feel the need to add flowers and ornametals everywhere. I even pack flowers in and around my vegetable beds. Flowers attract beneficial insects, but I simply plant them because they make me happy.

Two raised vegetable beds surrounded by nasturtiums and poppies (pink Asian and orange California).

Eggplant, tomatoes, and carrot seedlings share a bed with a bright yellow Coreopsis.

Dwarf dahlias hide behind the rosemary-and-thyme-planted terracotta pot.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

overgrown squash?

If you have ever had a vegetable garden you have probably fallen symptom to "overgrown squash syndrome". It's okay, it won't kill you or your garden... just make sure you pick those zucchinis before they get too big!
Today I had had enough, and decided to cut back some of my squash plants... just enough so that they weren't shading out my other veggies. Looking at the clipped leaves, I realized just how beautiful they are. I decided to stick a couple of them in my bathroom as if they were cut flowers. The greenery adds a freshness that I really like.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Got away

After posting about all my summer jobs last week, I convinced myself to get away for the weekend.
My husband and I jaunted over to Olympic National Park for a quick one night backpacking trip up to flapjack lakes.
We ate salmon berries along the trail, and wistfully walked past unripe huckleberries. Trailing blackberry and thimbleberry were also ripening.
What was that? No foraging allowed in National Parks? Oh yeah...

Setting up camp

Perhaps we'll come back up around labor day,
when these hucks will be ripe and juicy.
Last weekend they were simply pretty flowers.

Our bear-proof pantry... bag of food hanging on a bear wire.

Bambi came for a visit. Apparently she knows that hunting
is not allowed in the park because she really liked our company.

(All photos taken on the iPhone to minimize pack weight)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Summer jobs

Back in the early spring I decided that this would be a summer of fun... sort of a graduation present to myself... I imagined a summer where I worked only as much as I needed to, only worked on cool and fun projects, and travelled a lot. So far I've been able to work on cool and fun projects, but... I have been working 10+ hour days on average, and often on the weekends. Traveling has been sparse and limited to quick jaunts here and there. The reason is that I found an incredible number of cool and fun projects to work on. Some of them pay, some do not, but I am proud to be a part of all of them.

Here are some photos from my summer of fun work*

***Note to family and friends: these are photos from just a few of the jobs I've been doing this summer. There are more jobs yet! So sorry if I haven't called or written... I've been busy working in the dirt. Come late fall some normalcy should return to my life!

Alleycat Acres is growing like crazy up on Beacon Hill. Come help us harvest on Tuesday nights from 6-8 pm.
Apparently kids love to harvest carrots,
and this one was good at it.
We got about 5 cuttings from that Romaine!

Installation of two demonstration beds at the Goat Hill Giving Garden in downtown Seattle
Filling the beds with either a GroCo/sandy loam blend, or sandy loam + organic fertilizer
Watering in the seeds. We planted potatoes, squash, and bush beans in the demo beds

Collecting soil samples from research plots on Vashon Island
Collecting biomass samples

One day that tall meadow will return to
forest if we have anything to do with it

Veggies and ornamentals growing at the South Treatment Plant demo garden
These Hollyhocks are so romantic
Bright Bandolier Sunflowers
Baby eggplant
Wish my tomatoes at home looked like this
Cucumbers starting to develop
Scabiosa is stunning