Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My fall garden

I decided at the end of this last summer that I would try my hand at gardening. Not entirely sure why I picked fall as the time to plant my first garden, my thumb is the same color as the rest of my fingers.......but it's actually growing and we are getting to eat from it!
We picked a small raised bed in our front courtyard. It is only about 3 feet by 6 feet, so I don't get too overwhelmed at first! It already has a sprinkler system set up inside, so I figured it was a good place to start.

First the kids and I cleared out all the weeds and spring bulbs in the dirt...boy were there a ton of bulbs. Somehow I don't remember all those flowers popping up each spring. We saved them all in a dark place in the garage....well no, we haven't quite done that yet, actually. We plan to save them all in a brown bag for right now they are still sitting on the work bench, oops.

Next we added a bag of starter compost and some organic vegetable starter fertilizer. The mixing was fun and super dirty! Oh and the courtyard stunk for weeks! The compost smelled "disgusting", I was reminded each time someone walked out the front door.

Then we hit the nursery to buy our plants. A nice gardener helped us pick the easier to grow plants and suggested for our first time that we plant already started plants instead of trying to sprout seeds. (I think he took one look at the 3 rascals having a shopping cart derby through the outdoor aisles of the nursery and figured I didn't have time to baby sprouts in my window sill for weeks.) We came home with: sugar snap peas, broccoli (more on this later), bush beans (no time to deal with poles for pole beans), arugula, chard, sweet mustard greens, sweet peppers, basil and cucumber. Wow, that's a lot for a 3x6 space! We dug out rows and started planting.

Once it was all in the ground, I decided that would be a good time to test the sprinklers. In retrospect, should have tested them before bringing home all my little "babies". So there was one sprinkler that was gushing from underground, two sprinklers without spray heads and one section not getting water. Darn! So I turned off the sprinkler system and watered by hand for a couple of weeks.

Finally I discovered soaker hose. Yay! Sprinklers soon to be back in business. So I fixed all the broken pipes, including digging a 9 inch deep hole to get to one of them, and attached soaker hose all the way around the garden. Freedom.

And now all there was left to do is wait........well kinda.
About 4 weeks in I found a few aphids on the arugula. Darn! The only kind of aphid spray I knew of was a super harsh poison that would defeat the whole point of my organic garden. So I googled it, of course. I discovered that the best things for aphids are "green lace wings". They are a bug that love to eat aphids. Supposed to be better than ladybugs. There are all these websites that will sell them to you...and they're not that expensive, about $10 for a huge bag that will easily be enough for my small garden. But it turns out you have to keep them cold to keep them alive (well, it's just the larvae they are sending you) and therefore need to be overnighted........cha-ching....the price just jumped to $28! Eeek. My money saving garden is about to cost me more than the organic booths at the farmer's market. So I decided to try our local nursery. I get there 5 min. before they open, the chain fence is still up blocking their parking lot, so I wait in the driveway, in position to be first to enter, like it's Norstrom's Anniversary Sale. The guy opens the gate and we all pour out of the car.....they guy must be thinking what is this silly lady doing here at the crack of dawn with her children, so anxious to get in! Well anyways, they had the green lace wings! Hoooray! And then I turn the bag over and see the price tag, $25. What? Seriously. I hand them back to the guy and thank him but tell him I'm going to pass. And we all load back in the car.
Ok, plan B. Google says: soapy water, sprayed on each and every leaf. Wow, that sounds like a serious ordeal to turn every leaf and spray with soapy water. But I have to save my garden! The websites suggest doing this weekly. Ok, gardening is suddenly not as appealing. But I do it, I spray down each leaf, some twice. It only takes me 10 min., what was I complaining about? And in a few days, they were gone, every last one of them. By the time I did the spraying, there were thousands of aphids on every single plant and just a few days later, gone, completely. I continued to check back and never saw them as of now, I've not sprayed again!

Ok, drum roll please..............and finally, 6 weeks after planting, we harvested our first crop! We picked green beans and arugula and mustard greens, having plenty to feed all 5 of us, including two very hearty salads.

I steamed the beans for just a couple minutes, leaving them al dente. And I made two large salads with the greens and a simple oil/vinegar/s/p dressing. The kids devoured their beans in under 2 minutes, asking for more. Then they tried my salad and practically attacked me for it! I'd say it was a huge success. They look forward to picking more tomorrow night.

Since then we've picked arugula almost daily for our sandwiches or small side salads at dinner.

Ok, this post is getting long, but I still have more to tell you! So I had been waiting and waiting for my broccoli to start sprouting its crowns. Was this like carrots and they grow underground, no, right? Well where are the crowns? The leaves were huge, the plants were the tallest in the garden, shading the little carrot seeds I threw in for good measure. So then I looked at the tag and googled the name: broccoli spigariello. Turns out it's some prized California heirloom broccoli rabe, in which you eat the leaves! It doesn't grow crowns at all. The leaves taste like a sweeter version of broccoli. Who knew? And I guess people go crazy when they see it at the farmer's market....the website said to buy it up like crazy whenever you can. So the kids and I went on a harvest spree and picked tons and tons of leaves.

I cooked them in some olive oil until slightly crispy, then sprinkled on pepper and pink salt (a house fave) and drizzled on a tad bit of honey. Again, everyone was begging for more! So the next night, we had it all over again. And then again! We have a ton of broccoli spigariello, maybe I should start selling it at Lucas's lemonade stand.

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