latest news from the garden

IMG_7534We have been hard at work building our new garden.  Actually, we have been engaged in a war with bermuda grass and right now, we are barely hanging on to the lead in this battle!  Despite using lots of cardboard and wood chips, this stuff finds a way to break out and sprout up everywhere.  Luckily, there is no shortage of cardboard or wood chips as well as my stubborn determination!

Because of the density of the grass layer, we have turned to a favorite method of building beds and have begun layering materials on top of it rather than break our backs and knees with digging and sifting.  The blue tubs each have a sweet potato plant and we are hoping that we will have good luck with this method.  In the empty beds, I have layered horse manure, leaves and grass clippings and I will cover the area with cardboard and use purchased organic soil to grow in.  Eventually, the layers will compost and the cardboard will disintegrate leaving us with a nutrient rich layer of soil to garden in.  Patience is key here because this will take at least a year to accomplish and if all goes well, it will also smother out the bermuda grass in the beds.  Otherwise, I will have to dig it out because using something like glyphosate is not an option-read this to see just how bad the stuff is!

IMG_7536In late winter, I started a few beds by broadcasting a bunch of seeds over them.  In this bed, the Chinese Cabbages are doing really well and we should be harvesting them soon!

IMG_7539These Tokyo Market turnips are a favorite of ours and we are harvesting them about once a week.  They are wonderful when roasted and the greens are tender enough that you just have to saute them, no boiling necessary!

IMG_7541In a nearby bed, I threw in lettuce seeds, obviously too many but, we have had tons of lettuce to eat and to share.

IMG_7545We purchased about a dozen broccoli plants and we have been eating it roasted and in salads.  Did you know that you can harvest those large leaves and eat them too?  We have done this on many occasions making the individual plants twice as productive.  Use the heads and some of the stems raw in salads and slaws or roast the florets with a little oil and your favorite spice blend.  The leaves should be blanched first to soften them, then saute them with a little garlic, you won’t regret it.

IMG_7554Who doesn’t love surprises?  Especially if it is a raspberry bush-we have found two so far!

IMG_7556Of course, we learned of the muscadines from a neighbor and earlier this spring, we gave them a hard pruning to alleviate some of the weight and shading on the vines.  New vines have erupted and we are starting to see the promise of fruits.

IMG_7557Beyond the garden is an area where I am hoping to develop a meadow for bees and butterflies.  Right now, it is a tangle of weeds and in the middle, is what looks like a dandelion on steroids.  Goatsbeard, trogopogon dubius, is a type of salsify and is considered a weed.

IMG_7560It was disappointing to learn that it is an introduced species and not considered a beneficial addition to the landscape. But that seed head!

IMG_7550Then there is this guy, Hunky Dory the Americauna rooster we got in the latest brood.  He is a handsome fellow but a noisy one as well.  We gave him that name because he will crow to let us know that something is not up to his standards.  Not enough pellets; crow.  No water; crow.  Roosting bar fell down; crow.  Clock strikes 3am; crow…

IMG_7553Not only is it against the law, we do not want fertilized eggs or more chickens so the handsome fellow will be rehomed as soon as we can find a suitable situation.

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Anzac Biscuits; a Tuesdays with Dorie post

IMG_7493How time flies…We have been so busy here; the garden takes so much of our attention and leaves little time for anything else.  The space the garden occupies is the footprint of the garden that was maintained by the man who once lived here but has since passed away.  Funny coincidence, he too was a member of the master gardeners and more than one of my fellow members remembers him and stranger still, several of them would come here to help him in the garden.  It has been interesting to learn about him and the methods he used here.

When we hold our monthly meetings, we always have a potluck dinner.  Along with a large platter of salad greens fresh from our garden, I brought a tray of cookies.  Well, we call them cookies but to the folks in Australia where this recipe originates from, they call them biscuits.  If you take the time to read about the recipe in the book Dorie’s Cookies, you will learn that Anzac is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and that the history of the cookie suggests that it is a wartime recipe and was most likely favored because it was easy to ship.  Interesting to say the least but truthfully, tasty cookies worth the effort!

IMG_7490The recipe calls for golden syrup, a traditional British and Australian favorite but I used wildflower honey; it tasted awesome in the cookies.  Oatmeal and coconut are the other predominant flavors but the surprise is that the cookies contain no eggs!

IMG_7487Crispy and chewy at the same time.  These went fast at the potluck and I received many compliments.  The verdict; must make these again!  May even pick up some golden syrup just to see if it makes a difference.

IMG_7495To see how the other bakers did, check out the website.  Feel like baking along with us?  Pick up a copy of the book and get to work!

Rose-Hibiscus Shortbread Fans; a Tuesdays with Dorie post

IMG_4417Isn’t it wonderful when several of your favorite things come together?  Everyone who visits this blog knows I love to garden and that baking is what I do professionally.  But I am betting that not many of you know that I have a thing for hibiscus plants, specifically, Hibiscus sabdariffa.  More commonly known as Roselle, this is the variety of hibiscus used to make tea.  Just look at that bloom; how could you not love it?

IMG_4424While the flower is pretty, and edible, it is a day flower which means it opens for a day and then dies.  As soon as the bloom withers, the plant begins producing seeds in the calyx.  To make tea, you must gather them before the pod swells with immature seeds.  It takes quite a few to make a pot of tea!  Because of this, I generally plant 3 or 4 of them around the garden and yard.  They can get quite large if the conditions are right; lots of direct sun, plenty of moisture but not soggy.

IMG_4431If you are looking at this plant and are thinking that it looks like okra, you are right!  Hibiscus is also related to cotton and if you spend time in garden centers, you will find that there are lots of perennial and annual varieties of hibiscus.  Unfortunately, this variety will not survive a freeze which means you must overwinter it indoors or start over each spring which is what I do.  The seeds need heat and will not germinate until the soil is warm.  Start them indoors or wait until about May to plant seeds outdoors.

img_4439They will begin blooming in late summer and that is when you will have calyxes to collect.  Spread them out and dry them completely, I do it in the oven with just the light on.  Then when dry, you can store them in a glass jar.

img_7400So what does this plant have to do with baking?  This week’s recipe from Baking Chez Moi calls for hibiscus tea!  This recipe mixed up quickly and easily and when it was all said and done, I sent these, along with the Valentine’s Share-A-Heart cookies to my girls for Valentine’s Day.  They loved them!

img_7401Devon called hers a little pink pizza and looking at that shot, I can see why.  However, they tasted like no pizza I have ever eaten!  Crispy and flaky and full of vanilla(I was out of rose water) and with just a hint of tangy, floral notes from the hibiscus tea.

img_7404The recipe does not call for much tea so I only used a few calyxes-whizzed them in the spice grinder.  My thought is that next time, and there will be a next time, I will use double the amount.  After all, summer is coming and I will have more plants in the garden!

img_7405Join us sometime!  We love the company.  Pick up a copy of Baking Chez Moi and bake along with us.  To see how the rest of the bakers did, visit the website.

building garden beds from the soil up

img_7420Although the space we have fenced in was once the site of a very successful garden, it hasn’t been maintained in years.  Then as if to add insult to injury,  some thoughtful person seeded it heavily with Bermuda Grass.  Really heavily-inches thick on top with roots half a foot deep.  What a nightmare!!!  We started the process of building the beds today and in 4 hours time, we only finished 3 (4’x4′) beds.  This is going to take a while to do and we may not have much of a garden this spring.

The first thing we did was to outline the beds with string.  Using shovels, Darry flipped the top 8 inches of soil and we spent a lot of time shaking out the roots to save the soil and remove the Bermuda Grass roots and rhizomes.  Along the way, we threw many larvae, worms and beetles at the chickens who were watching our every move! img_7426My good friend and fellow Master Gardener Shirley always tells me that Bermuda Grass is meaner than a snake and if you try to rip it out, it gets even meaner.  She is absolutely right about that!  Each jointed area is a node and it has the potential to become a complete plant.  It isn’t enough to just pull it out, you must remove all of the little pieces or you will have lots of new little plants!  We spent at least an hour sifting the soil as we turned it to remove as many little pieces as we could.

img_7428Once the soil was prepped, we spread the contents of a bag of Black Cow Composted Manure over the surface.  We didn’t have much to work with and bit the bullet and purchased a bunch of bags to use.  As far as purchased compost goes, this stuff works pretty well.  We then cut used leaf bags to cover the surface of the bed.  Our hope is that the paper will help cut back on the weeds and Bermuda Grass from sprouting in the beds.

img_7429Since we haven’t found an arborist to supply us with wood chips yet, we are using a combination of cardboard and leaves to control the Bermuda Grass in the walkways.  Free leaves and cardboard make this project a lot more affordable and keep stuff from going to landfills.

img_7431We purchased a dozen broccoli starts to test our method.  To plant each start, I cut an “X” in the paper and folded the pieces underneath to create a hole.  Then I used my hands to make a hole and plant each start.

img_7432It isn’t the prettiest bed I have ever seen but it should work!

img_7433We are also without rain barrels which means using city water and decided to top each square with straw.  If all goes well, this layer of straw will help conserve the water so that we do not have to pay Metro for tap water.  The added bonus, the paper and straw will also break down over time and help improve the soil.

Be sure to visit the blog regularly to see the progress of our new garden.

just another sunday in paris…a tuesdays with dorie post

img_7409If only I knew what a Sunday in Paris was like; someday… Actually, in this case, it is a reference to a pastry shop in Paris and that is the name of it; Sunday in Paris.  This cake is a specialty of theirs and a favorite of Dorie Greenspan’s which is why she developed the recipe for her book, Baking Chez Moi.  The Tuesdays with Dorie bakers chose this cake for February and it was a great cake for Valentine’s day, or any day that chocolate and peanut butter are appropriate-otherwise known as everyday in my book!

img_7413Peanut butter is not that popular in Paris where Nutella apparently reigns but here in Tennessee, it flies and fast.  We took this cake to a potluck dinner and I came home with crumbs on a dirty tray.  The dark, rich cake reminded me of Drakes Devil Dogs with a hint of peanut butter.  To have enough for the dinner, I doubled the recipe and baked it in a pullman loaf pan to make a tall, brick shaped cake.  We didn’t have any peanuts in the house but while rummaging through the cupboards, I found a Payday bar and chopped some of it up for the garnish on the top.

img_7417This is a recipe I would make again and if you have the book, do not hesitate to try it!  To see what the other bakers came up with this week, visit the website!  To participate, pick up a copy of the book and bake along with us.

valentine’s share a heart cookies; a two-for-one, cookies and kindness, tuesdays with dorie post

img_7389It is so nice to be back to baking with the Tuesdays with Dorie gang!  Especially when it means baking cookies, lots of cookies!  If you recall my post from earlier this month, Dorie Greenspan recently began a revolution to make the world a sweeter place with Cookies & Kindness.  Each month, she posts a recipe on her website and encourages us to bake and share the cookies.   For February, she chose these easy to make Valentine’s Day Share-A-Heart cookies and this is also the recipe chosen by the Tuesday with Dorie Bakers; a two-for-one recipe!

The recipe calls for making two large hearts that can be decorated and given as gifts.  As soon as I saw the recipe, I knew I would be making them for my daughters but having to ship them to Georgia and California, I chose a smaller size cutter so that the cookies would survive the trip.

img_7391Do not be intimidated by the call for rolling out the cookies with parchment paper.  Over the years, I have rolled out thousands and thousands of cookies and one issue I have always encountered, the added flour from rolling out the cookies can change the consistency of the dough.  If you have read any of my posts on rolling cookies, I have always instructed that you brush off as much of the flour as possible to prevent the dough from changing.  Dorie has a brilliant suggestion in her recipe; place the dough between two sheets of parchment paper and skip the flour!  For small quantities, this is absolutely the way to go and it is definitely a technique I will use again.  The parchment paper takes the place of the flour and the consistency of the dough remains the same from start to finish.  Keep in mind, repeatedly rolling out the dough will toughen it as the gluten becomes developed but for small quantities like this, you won’t have to worry about that happening.

img_7395If you enjoyed this post, think about baking along with us.  Pick up a copy of Dorie’s Cookies and bake cookies to share!  Sweeten the world one cookie recipe at a time!  To see what the rest of the gang did with their cookies, check the website!

just another sunday in the chicken coop

img_7335About a month ago, our chickens came home from their temporary location.  We decided to put the coop within the garden so that they can help us with insect control and composting and more importantly, to keep the dog away from their droppings-we won’t discuss her disgusting taste in snacks…

Although they are fairly safe in the garden since it is fenced in, hawks are still a threat and we knew we would have to spend some time building a large pen and tunnels.  Neither of us is particularly handy in a construction manner, but despite this, we were able to build the structures from PVC pipe, poultry netting, 2×3 wire fencing, lawn staples and cable ties.

img_7336The garden itself is approximately 38 feet wide by 94 feet long, which makes it about 3500 square feet.  That gave us plenty of room for the coop and pen as well as the tunnels.  The first thing I did out there was dedicate an area for composting and it is just behind the wheel barrow.

While we worked on things, the chickens explored the entire garden.  After being confined to the coop for two months, they wandered all over, pecking and scratching and searching for bugs.

 

They also discovered my compost pile.  Those feet move fast-they scattered the compost all over and after raking it back in place half a dozen times, we had to build a barricade.

img_7367It took us an entire weekend to paint the PVC, build the hoop frame and cover it with the poultry netting.  Knowing that we can leave them outside during the day without worrying about hawks.  The large pen has another purpose; we will store leaves in there and the chickens will help us compost them.  They constantly dig in the leaves which helps break them up and because the leave droppings as they go, the nitrogen in them will also help with the composting process.  It takes at least six months to break them down so we will have to be patient.

img_7385The hoops are attached to the coop so that we can leave their door open to give them access to the pen.

img_7369If the chickens are going to help with insect control in the garden, they need to be able to walk through it but unfortunately, they could run into hawks and more importantly, they would make a mess of the beds.  The  solution; tunnels.  We built them in Williamsburg so that they would have more space to roam and when we moved, we took them apart and moved them with us.

img_7375Starting at the far end of the pen, we are running the tunnels down the fence line and around the exterior edge of the garden.  We may still let them out into the garden occasionally but not with out supervision.

img_7371We attached the fence hoops to the wire fencing with cable ties.

img_7373To keep them in place on the ground, we used lawn staples.

It didn’t take them long to figure it out-they spent the afternoon in the tunnels eating as much of the green grass and weeds as they could find.