Tuesday, August 30, 2011

freezing greens

swiss chard has been the biggest success in the garden this year. i started my chard from seed in the early spring months at our old home in missouri. i planted them in my spring garden & then dug them up & re-planted them in pots. after traveling across state lines & surviving 115 degree summers, i'd say my swiss chard plants are troopers.

we are still harvesting basket fulls of chard for our summer dinners, but the chard just seems to keep growing. for that reason, i decided it was necessary to preserve some of our chard for later. i always pinch myself in the grocery store, wishing i had saved some of my greens, when purchasing kale, swiss chard & spinach during the winter months.

after some research & experimenting, i found that blanching & freezing greens (swiss chard, collards, kale, spinach, etc.) is the easiest & quickest way to preserve your harvest:

1. gather your greens.

2. wash your greens.

3. cut off & remove stems & other blemishes from leaves.

4. bring large pot (3/4 full of water) to a full boil. submerge greens into pot & keep in pot for three minutes.

5. once those greens have been in the pot for three minutes, drain & add to a large bowl full of ice water for three minutes.

6. drain & add to plastic freezer bag. remove air from bag (tip: use a straw & suck out air). make sure to label bag with name of greens & date.

7. place in freezer for later use!

happy freezing, friends!

Monday, August 29, 2011




i'm always amazed at how plants do what they need to do to survive... tomatoes growing in the cracks between bricks in my garden.  beans climbing up anything that will hold them.  they are so resilient.  when there is not enough water, they conserve what they have.  when the are stressed, there are scars, but they endure.  there is a lot we can learn from the plants around us.

ps: i'm happy to be posting on mondays now, and shari will be here on wednesdays from now on. have a great week friends!

Friday, August 26, 2011


it's so nice to be back.
what a great week of posts last week!
a big hug and a thanks to all of our guests.

we have had loads of rain here and more to come
so the garden is large and lush these days.
the hens are happy in their new home
and our banty has begun to lay sweet tiny eggs.
we have harvested our first pear of the season.
and watermelons are growing on our front stoop.
i have plans to start a new rock wall this weekend, if i don't get washed away.
i love this time of year.
fall is in the air
but there is still so much to come.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

harvesting beans




so here is the follow up post to the growing beans post from earlier this season.  after all that work, i am reaping the benefits of my bean extravaganza.  so far, i have harvested almost all of the tiger's eye beans (the orange/red ones), and less than half of the calypso beans (the black and white ones).  i've also picked a couple of pounds of the purple pod pole and sultan's golden crescent fresh beans.  i still have october beans and hutterite soup beans that i saved from last year as well.

growing dry beans is one of the easiest things to do in your garden, since they are so low maintenance.  just make sure they are decently watered while they are growing, and just leave them on the plants until they are fully crispy.  shell the beans, spread them out on a baking tray, and bake in the oven on the lowest setting for 10-15 minutes to make sure there are no weevils or other itty bitty critters enjoying your beans.  one new technique that i tried this year was rolling the bean seeds in rhizobium powder prior to planting.  this is supposed to increase yields by up to 100%, but honestly, i saw no difference [at least in the ones i've harvested so far].  i'd love to hear if anyone has different experience with this. 

here are a few sources for heirloom bean recipes:
:: seed savers heritage farm bean salad (this is where i purchase my bean seeds)
:: rancho gordo  (both rancho gordo and seed savers also sell heirloom beans for cooking if you don't want to grow your own).  they also have a whole book of heirloom bean recipes!
:: 101 cookbooks heirloom beans and seitan recipe
:: becky and the beanstalk (i made this hutterite bean soup last winter)

do you have any favorite heirloom bean recipes or tips?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

planning for the changing season

hello! it feels so good to be back.
thank you to all of the wonderful guests last week! i really enjoyed it.

the month of august is so special in so many ways. days are growing cooler, summer is savored, fall is nearing & the harvest is plentiful. in our home, august also comes with many long days of preserving, freezing, working outside & preparing for the changing season. here's a little peek at our list:

home & garden list
- peach jam
- pickles
- watermelon rind preserves
-freeze tomatoes
-build chicken coop
-plan for fall garden

to manage it all, we make lists. lots of lists. we also (try to) keep things organized so as to not miss a date or forget to do something before it is too late.

for our fall garden, we keep a large chalkboard in our living room to remind us daily of what needs to be accomplished. we write down dates for transplanting or directly seeding & a map of where those seeds or starts need to be planted in the garden.

i also keep a journal of successes & failures from the season to keep, along with ideas to try next year. this is a place to keep favorite preserving recipes, too. this helps to keep me sane & not make the same mistake each year.

finally, it is equally important to be realistic about what can be accomplished on any given day in the garden. if those tomatoes are nearing their end & you do not have time to make some sauce for canning, make room for them in your dinner that night. don't worry, there are still tomatoes ripening on the vine for your winter canning.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

(guest post) Cultivating gratitude

Every setting has its own gardening challenges. As someone who came to her city plot with a more rural perspective, the urban garden provided me with learning experiences that were previously unthinkable. June and July found me gently shaking my tomato plants and paint-brushing male squash pollen onto the female blossoms, because my walled-off city garden lacks the wind exposure and critical mass of bees necessary to set very much fruit. Arable space is at a premium, so if your one-hundred-year-old row house is built, as was the custom for “terraced” homes in the early 20th-century, on a raised bank of earth that provides perfect conditions for erosion, such is your plight.The real kick of humility stems from the sheer nature of city life. That is to say, most people don’t come to the city to live off of the land. We are likely to be renting houses or apartments, where the owner may or may not allow us to do our own gardening. We have non-garden-, non-farm-related jobs. In my case, that job takes me to faraway places for weeks. It’s a privilege that anyone who grows food for their livelihood cannot afford. We possess no delusions of self-sufficiency, nor even of a steady stream of supplementary food.Which brings me to the point: that knock-down, humbling experience of growing (or trying to grow) things in an urban setting frequently gives way to gratitude. Gratitude for what does grow, for the surprise successes and the feeling of putting it on the table. And, moreover, immense gratitude for what others tend and provide. I’ve been going to farmers’ markets for years in rural, rolling-green-hills Virginia, without giving them too much thought. Now that I live in a city, they seem nothing short of miraculous. I mean, farmers’ markets! How brilliant are those places? People grow beautiful food, bring it to your city, and sell it at affordable prices in pleasant open-air markets. Gardening in city circumstances has made me celebrate their harvests to a degree I never did before.This week, I’m cultivating gratefulness for some party-dress-ruffled collards my garden is putting out. It’s technically past the time for these collards to be harvested, but they had a strange year. I planted them in a spot with too much shade, so they grew too little early in the season. Then I had problems with pests. And only finally, when I had all but given up on them, they straightened their shoulders and turned into vibrant, unexpected grey-green beauties. I’ve been appreciating them in the mornings, tossed simply in oil and wilted, on a garlic-rubbed piece of toast.
The act of growing plants amazes me with the humility it inspires. Gardening in an urban setting, though, goes above and beyond any previous experience I’ve had. Beyond utter humility, to self-pitying, “the earth and the ground are all-knowing and I am useless” kind of days, where you hover between crying and feverishly concocting plans for the flagship chapter of the Society Against the Evils of Non-Native Slugs (Wanna join? Email me. Just kidding. Sort of).Consider: Modern cities, in general, were often conceived with the plan to keep flourishing green things at bay as best as possible. Washington, DC, where I live, was built on top of a swamp that was drained to the best of Jeffersonian-era abilities. Beautiful species of water flora were virtually eradicated, tidal marshes were filled in, and we logged the heck outta this little space. And now, years later, in some bizarre circle of history, home and community gardeners are trying to reclaim those green spaces, ushering in food and flower where they can. 

Collards on toast

You will need:
A bunch of collard greens (or any bitter green, like kale or chard), sliced into 1-inch ribbons, tough stems removed if necessary
1 tablespoon olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Your favorite crusty loaf of bread, sliced
1 clove garlic, peeled and cut through the middle
Crushed red pepper (optional)

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced collards, tossing to lightly distribute oil. Add salt and pepper (and crushed red pepper, for a little kick) to taste. Allow them to wilt for 3-5 minutes, tossing occasionally. Meanwhile, start toasting the slices of bread. Remove the collards from heat when they are not quite as wilted as you would like, as they will continue to cook for a few minutes. When bread has finished toasting, rub it with the cut side of the garlic. Top toast with collards, and taste for salt and pepper. This simple dish is good as is, but is elevated to greatness when topped with a poached or over-easy egg.

Sarah is the voice behind The Yellow House, a journal focusing on the life lived around homemade, seasonally- and garden-driven food.

Friday, August 19, 2011

(guest post) little ones in the garden

Thank you Amy and friends for inviting me to guest post on Tend. Your space here is an inspiration and I love checking in daily! So honored to be a part of it...

My parents had a garden when I was growing up that all the neighbors envied. I remember impatiently waiting for the first ripe cucumber that I would pick and my mother would slice and salt it with some tomatoes on a plate. I think that is the best memory of food I have. I don't remember how involved I was in the whole process, but I do remember harvesting what we grew. I was amazed that we could grow food! It seemed so magical to me.

I knew as soon as my daughter was born that I wanted her to be connected with her food sources. The first year I direct seeded some veggies...beans, peas, and cucumbers. I didn't buy any seedlings and our results were not terrific and definitely made me yearn for more of a "green thumb." But when we moved to a half acre lot in town, my garden ambitions just went crazy! It seemed that this tiny lot (so different from the previous 8 acres) had much more to offer. I could get more creative with my gardening and really loved finding out unique ways to use the space we had. So the first spring, we tested out the soil in the big backyard...no good. Too wet and swampy. We were crushed! But we had a tiny square of grass next to the driveway out front which was much higher and dry, so we put in four raised beds there. It was a success! The little one and I poured over the local seed catalog and ordered (what turned out as) way too many seeds! But we put most of them to good use...starting our own seeds indoors when there was still snow covering the ground. She loved this process, and at two years old played a big role in getting our garden going. I could see the amazement in her eyes when the seeds sprouted, when they got so big we had to move them outdoors into the now frost free garden, and I knew how proud she was when the veggies were ready to harvest. I still remember when she sat down on the grass, chomping on freshly picked green beans. I remember feeling so pleased that she was learning how much work goes into our food, and how much we appreciate everything that we are able to eat.

At age four, she is just as big of a help in the garden as anyone else. Our four raised beds have increased to eighteen! We have winter crops going already, fruit trees, berries, herbs, and an incredible amount of vegetables that keep us well fed all season long. She plants, she weeds, she harvests, she eats...I love seeing her run out there at the first sign of anything ready to pick. This summer she is eating more than ever, her favorites being strawberries, "crunchy" lettuce, green beans, and carrots. Tons of carrots. If I need anything while prepping dinner, she is the first to say, "I'll go get it!" running out the door before anyone else has a chance.

Tonight while I was making dinner (a potato, summer squash, zucchini, purple tomato, and herb torte. yum!), I announced I needed to run outside to get some basil. She stopped her playing and quickly joined me, helping me pick in the garden. She turned to me and said, "Mama, isn't it so neat that we don't have to buy any vegetables at the store? And that we can make a whole dinner from things from our garden?!" I think it was the sweetest thing ever. I knew everything that she had been learning from watching us was really sinking in. She gets it. And she appreciates it.

Growing our own food is definitely my favorite thing to do with her. And she inspires me constantly in gardening, in life, and everything else. I have learned so much because of her and her curiosities. She would probably tell you I taught her everything she knows, but I beg to differ. She has definitely shown me what gardening is all about.


You can get your children involved with gardening at any age! Whether they are not yet crawling and strapped in an Ergo while you weed, or they are curious two year old's who want to do "everything myself!" Here's a little list of things the little one was involved in at various ages:

Around 9 months old
  • playing in the soil (I loved giving her a little space to just dig and mess around in the dirt while I gardened, and she loved it too!)
  • sorting veggies (I would pick a big basket of cucumbers and beans, she loved to take out all the beans and put them in her own bowl)
  • tasting (she loved sucking on big green beans and carrots)
2 years old
  • helped with seedlings inside (we started them in leftover egg shells like this)
  • transplanted them to beds outside once frost free
  • helped weed (she had her own mini wheelbarrow that she would put them in and dump in the compost with me)
3 years old (all of the above, plus...)
  • started her own seedlings (she was in charge of flowers...cosmos, sunflowers, zinnias, and nasturtiums)
  • got her own mini shovel and started shoveling manure onto the beds in early spring (we use alpaca...it's the best!)
  • started learning when to harvest the veggies and fruit
  • helped direct seed the seeds into the beds
  • helped can 32 jars of jam, 16 jars of salsa, 20 jars of pickles, and 8 jars of pasta sauce
4 years old (all of the above, plus...)
  • was in charge of her own window box (herbs)
  • had her own raised bed (strawberries and carrots)
  • watered the gardens
  • harvested the veggies and fruits on her own (she now can tell when they are ready)
  • helped prepare the things we picked for lunch or dinner
  • is in charge of egg collecting for our backyard flock of chickens (she also lets them out in the evening to roam the yard)
  • helps pick through, clean, and freeze berries

Hope that gives you some ideas of what the little ones can do! As shown above, they can be tremendous helpers! Happy gardening!!

erin is a 20-something mama who loves to sew, read, cook, write, and live simply. she is the author & photographer of bluebirdbaby. thank you so much, erin!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

(guest post) The Unbumper Crops

mabel and limas

Thank you so much for the honor to write with you lovely gals here on Tend. I love checking in and seeing what's going on, reading similar philosophies and approaches to my own way of living. Every post emits a shared coziness and warmth; a breath of fresh air.

See, sometimes my green thumb turns into a green and jealous meanie when I see the many finely edited gardens dotting the internet. I have a hard time keeping my garden envy in check when I see others with bumper crops of vine ripened tomatoes. I immediately compare them to my own Better Boys, split and scarred from the recent onslaught of thunderstorms.

Then, sometimes, I watch my daughter play in the plants. I made up my mind early in my pregnancy that I would embrace her curiosity and teach her to respect the natural world around us. But also, as a mom I devote most of my energy to Mabel, and the gardens don't get the same amount of attention they used to. I plant things and don't mark them, forgetting about them until they produce something discernible. This year that something is beans. I've grown beans before: favas, limas, green beans, cow peas...but this year they came up, started forming beans and I had one of those new gardener moments where I ran inside and showed Charlie and Mabel that I. grew. beans. I had 2 beans in my hand, each bulging with the black eyed peas hidden inside. There were more out in the garden, not quite ready for picking, and definitely not a bumper crop by any stretch of the imagination. Those 2 beans in my hand, though, produced a swell of gardening pride.

I can't really pinpoint the source of pride. I suspect it's a residual effect of motherhood: I can choose to obsess over aphids and soil fertility, or I can choose to celebrate the small wonders that make Mabel ooohh and ahhh over a flower or an interesting rock. Being present in those moments has taught me to appreciate everything I grow, including my 2 pods of black eyed peas--my own amazing unbumper crop.


Thank you so much Renee for being our guest here today, we're honored! Renee lives in North Carolina and authored the Petals & Pedals series at Modish. Please visit her blog and website, Wolfie + the Sneak for more of her creative endeavors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

(guest post) kitchen gardening

First off a thank you to the Tend team – and especially Julia – for the invitation to join in over here this week.  I am currently up in the woods of western Canada – without dependable internet -  and her patience and understanding has been most appreciated!  When she asked me to write about gardening in California I immediately thought of the challenges of my kitchen garden.  I then entertained thoughts of writing on the transformation of our yard from lawn to California native garden; gardening with kids; or the soon-to-open 8000sq ft edibles garden we built at our neighborhood elementary school this summer.  I came back to the kitchen garden – where I have struggled the most – and have found some great rewards.

A kitchen garden was a constant of my childhood.  I grew up in small-city / big-town Brandon, Manitoba.   The seasons are distinct there – and could be defined by our work in the garden.  .  Our summers would be filled with days at our large community plot, falls of harvesting and canning and winters fetching root vegetables from our cold storage and feasting of canned tomatoes and homemade pickles.  We ate seasonally and locally and I didn’t know anything different.

After graduate school I moved to Los Angeles.  I surprised myself and ended up liking it here – and 14 years into it I call it home.  Gardening here is a completely different experience.  And it took me a good long while to figure it all out.  As I moved around the city I was overwhelmed with the variety at the local farmer’s markets and itched to be growing my own.  Once we bought our own home we dug right in.    Our particular community is considered desert – with triple digit days in the summer, and freezing nights in the winter.  My Manitoba garden experiences could not be transposed – as I soon learned.  I turned to experienced friends to guide me – and finally feel that we have found what works for us.  Greens dominate our winter garden; strawberries, potatoes and peas in the spring; and heirloom tomatoes and green beans for our summer crops.  Having small space has also dictated our strategy.  I am grateful for a CSA subscription that brings us a variety of organic produce throughout the year – grown in the milder coastal climes of nearby Oxnard – and a friend and neighbor with an enviable greener thumb than mine – and a yard dedicated to edibles.

We start from seed each season – in hand-made newspaper pots produced by my daughters.  When the seedlings are ready – they move out to our three raised beds – built by my husband David of 2 x 6 redwood.  This year, two beds have been dedicated to edibles and the third to a cut-flower garden for the girls to plant as they wish (Queen Anne’s Lace, cosmos, zinnias, sunflowers and a mix of herbs are favourites).

 Aside from the raised beds, we have included a few edibles within the landscape of our backyard.  
 I had never tasted a fresh artichoke (or avocado!) until I moved to Southern California.  They are now a staple in our kitchen – and avocados in our garden.  I made an attempt to integrate cooking greens as well, but my pest-management team made short order of them.

We don’t use any pesticides or fertilizers in our garden – aside from compost and a manure tea a friend brings me with the changing seasons.  Pests are to a minimum in our yard – with the help of our chickens – who at this point in time have the run of the yard.   (A rodent has moved in to the garden this year – and has been feasting on our summer crop.  The chooks haven’t been able to manage this pest – and we will have to explore options for its removal.  Any suggestions for rodent control?!)

My learning curve in our garden has been steep – and I have relied on advice from friends and books.  My favourite reads:

Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles
Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening
Rosalind Creasy's Edible Landscaping

I have to add The Garden That You Are– that is not geared to Southern California gardening, but is a beautiful book, and reminds me that growing our own food is an extension of who we are – and the successes, and failures are to be savoured.

Happy Gardening!

tracy is a canadian prairie girl living in suburban los angeles with her husband, two girls, three chickens a couple of turtles and fish named "rainbow".  she fills her days with her time in the garden (any garden), working on their mid-century modern home, and taking too many pictures of it all.  when she is not digging in the dirt, she manages an artist's estate.  she is a great believer in public eduction and the power of community. and is trying to build a stronger bond with her sewing machine. she blogs at jumilla stories and you can find her on flickr.