State of the Garden Address

Friends and Fellow Gardeners,

My wife and I had the blessing of quite a bit of outdoor space with the purchase of our new house.  I wasted no opportunity to start our garden this spring.  I had a box full of old seeds, so I wasn’t expecting a true garden of eatin’.  Space was no issue (though I do remember the days that our patio was our garden).  It took a few passes with our trusty tiller to carve out our space.  The previous owners had no garden, so the sod stood in our way.  Given this reality, it has been quite the battle  (as you may note) to keep the weeds out.  gardenI’ve had others tell me that it takes about three years to eliminate some of that, so the tiller will be busy.

One other battle has been with the critters of the area: birds, chipmunks, deer, and rabbits.  All seem to frequent the garden at different times.  We lost most of our peas that were already on the vines, and something has been digging by/eating our potatoes!  I cannot say I have seen that before.  I had a garden out in the country growing up and had seen my share of creatures.  Being near a somewhat large highway doesn’t do much to scare anything away.

Yet another battle has been with what I think is an occurrence of a plant disease.  I mentioned something similar earlier on the blog.  So far, much of our tomato crop is in the process of succumbing.

tomato with plant disease  Whatever it is, it has also affected the nearby clover and a flowering vine.  The tomatoes have all had similar issues- the leaves have turned grayish silver and seem to have stopped growing.  We still have had some tomatoes ripen (though some critters have helped themselves…)  Regardless, we’re not planning to compost any of these so nothing spreads, hopefully.

The weather has been somewhat bizarre.  We had a cool spring, so no early start this year.  We had a steady pattern of rain, but now we are behind for July- and only one day above 90 degrees so far.

On a more positive note, our vines seem to be growing well enough.  More of the garden germinated than I was expecting, but the weeds have kept some of that in check.  The potatoes may hold out if something stops eating them.  The radishes earlier this season were robust, and the cucumbers have been producing.

Thus, there is much to improve on for next year, but a garden is a process- with fun and frustration (emphasis on the fun for me).

Keep gardening, friends!

 

What have you planted this year?  Successes/difficulties?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flight of the Bumblebee?

flowers in field

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We just purchased a house with some additional outdoor space, and we are reaping lots of color in our first growing season here!  I plan to add plenty to this blog about some of our gardening projects around the new place as we dream them up.

As I have been maintaining our greatly increased lawn space, I have been fortunate to notice more than a few bumblebees in the area.  As a gardener, this is definitely a major positiveHoneybees and bumblebees have been facing some tough times.  Colony collapse disorder is very real, but not fully understood yet (though there are some possibilities).  I don’t know that we currently plan to have a hive nearby or take a beekeeping class yet, but at the least, some of our field will stay as it is.  A few more native wildflowers may make an appearance, as well.

(The honey is a bonus!)

Insidious Invasives

Certain invasive plants and animals receive greater media and government attention (for good reason). In our part of Wisconsin, the Emerald Ash Borer has been one of these species.  Similarly, I recently came across a news clip about giant hogweed as an invasive plant in Michigan.  What I did not realize was the danger in even trying to get rid of it:

This plant is also on one of Wisconsin’s lists, which also include some aquatic and wetland plants.  Invasive species will vary by location, but the potential negative impacts are similar: native species can be affected.  Wisconsin has Administrative Code NR 40, (the invasive species rule) which “makes it illegal to possess, transport, transfer, or introduce certain invasive species in Wisconsin without a permit”.  The counterpoint to this is the benefit of researching, planting, and promoting native species.  As planting season has arrived/is arriving, take a few minutes and make yourself aware of your region’s invasive and native species.  Report any invasives you find.  It could save you and your neighbors some trouble.  And watch out for the giant hogweed!

Some additional national resources:

http://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/index.shtml

http://www.invasivespecies.gov/index.html

 

 

Oh Cannoli!

Chow Ciao logo

 

 

 

Chef Fabio shows us a fan-selected favorite: how to make homemade ricotta into quick cannoli filling.  (Perhaps the perfect dessert for an Italian Easter brunch – with p!&$ed off eggs?)  It is easy to adjust the ricotta for flavor variety and is perfect for the recipe.

(I’m also a fan of the cannoli in the dessert case at Tenuta’s in Kenosha.)

What are your Easter favorites?

Chia… It’s Not Just for Pets Anymore!

I had heard about some of the benefits of chia seeds, but was excited to find out more- such as a recipe for chia pudding!

(Another recipe mentions you can use regular milk.)

 

Or a recipe for simple chia jam:

 

While some claims (such as weight loss) have not been researched much, chia seeds do have some known benefits.  My wife was most excited that they are a source of omega-3s that do not involve fish and (convenience-wise) are available in bulk at our local food cooperative.

Meal Planning… (or the Sustainable Not-A-Diet)

planning

 

 

 

 

 

 

UW Health had recently posted an article on meal planning which got me thinking about the benefits behind our own meal planning.  My wife and I had made the decision to focus more on meal planning (which subsequently led to us eating increasingly healthier) sometime less than a year ago.  How noticeable has the change been?

We’ve noticed several benefits- not the least of which is some weight loss (my usually accumulated semi-substantial winter pounds have vanished this long winter).  Granted, we had been eating somewhat healthier/with more vegetables for a long while before this.   Occasionally, our pre-meal-planning conversations would go something like this around dinnertime, though…

Me: “What are you hungry for?”

Her: “I don’t know.  You?”

Me: “I could go for anything.”

(Cue trip to selected nearby fast food restaurant.)   And… scene.

Now repeat this on a somewhat-weekly basis, and we’ve added weekly fast food runs to our meal planning.  The aforementioned UW Health article refers unspecifically to a survey about increased fast food consumption.  While we weren’t at the 5 meals threshold they reference, the fast food adds up (but that’s not to imply that I have completely sworn off fast food, though…)

We have found that we don’t need to plan beyond the upcoming week, but planning, cooking a meal, and eating associated leftovers has helped our budget also.  We are not paying extra (with calories or $) for convenience and are still saving time.  Freezable foods are simple to store in our chest freezer for later, as well.  Give it a try- what do you have to lose?

 

A pantry staples reference/recommendation to get you started: http://www.uwhealth.org/files/uwhealth/docs/pdf4/GRFW_Prepare_Pantry_flier.pdf

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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(But be careful with the name!)  Celebrate with the history and some green, as well as favorite dishes (even though they may not be historically Irish).  Of course, there is nothing like a glass of Guinness.  Visit a local Irish pub, and don’t forget dessert!  I’m not Irish (but I’m adopted Irish through my wife).

We didn’t go with the typical dishes this year; instead, I made a sweet pea and asparagus risotto to celebrate with green.  I’ve made a basic (somewhat healthy) risotto recipe for a while now and have found ways to adjust it to tasty effect.  I have a couple of cooking adjustments so it is not so heavy (1% milk instead of cream, butter added just before the end, olive oil to start).  Enjoy!

Sweet Pea and Asparagus Risotto

olive oil

1 large white onion

2 cloves garlic

2 c white wine

1 tablespoon parsley

1 tablespoon thyme

1 tablespoon marjoram

1 tablespoon coriander

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups risotto rice (Arborio or another kind)

1 cup milk

6 cups water (added one at a time)

chicken-flavored stock granules (or veggie, if desired)

1 small bag frozen peas

1 bunch fresh asparagus, chopped into pieces (tough part of stem removed and discarded)

2 tablespoons butter

8 oz fresh Parmesan cheese, shredded

I cooked this using a wok, but a medium-large non-stick saucepan should work.  Add olive oil to pan and set heat to low-medium.  Chop onion and add to pan.  Saute for a few minutes.  Add garlic using a garlic press (or mince).  Cook for about a minute (don’t let garlic burn), and add white wine.  I added the herbs at this point.  (I tend to like a lot of seasoning, so my herb and spice measurements were more along the lines of 2 tablespoons each.)  Add the rice, and cook so the wine bubbles and starts to reduce.  Add peas and asparagus.  Add milk, and then add the water 1 cup at a time (as the water cooks away and evaporates).  (Add chicken, chicken-flavored, or veggie stock granules according to the package directions.)  Keep heat at about medium so the mixture is bubbling, and keep stirring frequently to prevent burning/sticking and to build the creaminess with the rice.  Taste the rice as you cook so it does not get completely soft (you may need to add additional cups of water if the rice is not yet done, though).  Add the butter just before you are done.  Allow it to melt and stir it into the mixture.  Remove the risotto from the heat and add the shredded Parmesan (while stirring).

A note- fresh peas may be better, but we did not have any available.  The frozen peas we had seemed starchy, but we did enjoy the flavor of the peas, so frozen baby peas may be the way to go (more sweetness, less starch).   Happy St. Patrick’s Day!