Monday, May 25, 2015

Garden Journal: Now we’re growing!

Through late April and most of May, I was disappointed in how my garden looked.

Garden 05 (4)

Oh, it was growing, and mostly weedless, but it sure didn’t look lush. My peas in particular weren’t making the progress I wished for.

Well, maybe it’s time, or that great downpour we had last week, but finally things are starting to pop out there.

Garden 05 (9)

Three weeks’ difference has made me happy. I had one rogue radish pop up, and let it bloom there in the front. I was happy to see tiny little native bees on it last week. I recently read that those overlooked species do more pollinating that all the honeybees who get all the press. So I’ve been looking with pride at the clover in my unmowed lawn and thrilling at the constant swarm of miniature visitors to the parsley flowers growing wildly between our patio pavers.

And I doubt that’s the only reason, but surely it helps explain the great luck I’ve had with pollination this year?

Garden 05 (13)

Last year at this time, only one tomato plant had put on two tiny green fruits, but this year all 3 of my plants have bunches of fast-plumping tomatoes hanging on them. I’m only hoping they don’t all come ripe when we’re in San Francisco!

The peas, while behind last year’s schedule by about a week, are finally looking plentiful.

Garden 05 (10)


And while last year’s beans were already flowering by this point, these guys look pretty happy…besides, they’re a different variety.

Garden 05 (19)

Usually I grow bush beans because I don’t want to be bothered with poles. This year I wanted to try a pseudo-three sisters approach, with poles instead of corn (modern varieties take lots of space & water). Sadly, my squash plant didn’t germinate here, so it’s just beans and poles.  Oh well.

Luckily, my other two squash plants did germinate, finally.

Garden 05 (7)

They are in our fabulous raised bed built last year—the hoops and covering were supposed to help me get a jump-start on spring gardening this year, but I dithered so much about what I wanted to put in here that it’s now a total summer bed. There’s a lonely onion and a cilantro plant in the back. I took this photo right after Miss Chef harvested about 1/3 of the cilantro, so it’s doing better than it looks from here. In fact, I think it’s planning on bolting (flowering) soon. Fortunately, I’ve got a few other cilantro seedlings scattered around other beds, so we’ll be able to enjoy it a bit longer. The seeds are coriander, which is an easy spice to harvest, and fun to use. I should plant cilantro more often.

Part of the reason my garden doesn’t look quite so jungly as last year was my surrender on the broccoli front. I had about seven plants come up from seeds, half a dozen that survived transplanting into the bed, but only 3 that made it through a last, brutal freeze in March (or was it April?) I could have bought plants, but they take up a lot of space, so I thought I’d be reasonable and just grow what I have.

And now it’s time for examples of “right plant, right place”…and its opposite.

This is my biggest one.

Garden 05 (17)

Handsome fella, isn’t he? Now here’s the one on the opposite corner:

Garden 05 (14)

I’m not sure what the difference is here, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the garlic, either the shading or anti-companion status. Lots of things don’t like to grow near garlic. Also notice it’s more bug-eaten than the other, which I think is more effect than cause here. Healthy plants can resist pests and disease better, which is one of the benefits of using natural methods like companion planting, feeding the soil through compost, and mulching for water retention. Part of the end result is less need for pesticides.

That’s enough Gardening 101. There are more interesting things to look at. Like flowers!

Flowers 05 (2)

Well, this looked more impressive a few days ago, when there were fewer dead ones and more new ones. But I’ve got a nice self-propogating mix of galliardia, coreopsis and brown-eyed susans established in my front bed now. I should dead-head the spent blooms to encourage more flowering, but it’s hot out here in the afternoons!

At the bottom of the driveway, Miss Chef’s asiatic lilies are giving their annual show right now, too.

Flowers 05 (3)  


Flowers 05 (5)


And walking back to the house, I noticed one of our Mystery Trees has started bearing fruit. Wish I knew what it was!

Flowers 05 (7)


Also, this oddball popped up next to our neglected herb bed.

McKenna 05

I think I’ll keep this one.

McKenna 05 (13)

Saturday, May 9, 2015

First tomato!


It’s tiny. It’s green. Apparently, it’s a little fuzzy…but it’s the first of the season!

Also, some of the seeds I had decided would never come up, came up. One day bare soil, the next…beans!


Dunno what happened to those leaves, but I planted two at each stake, so we’re gonna play survival of the fittest. Gardening can be brutal, didn’t you know?

Wow, this picture came out fuzzy.


The garden seems less green than usual this year. Still, the peas are finally getting the idea and climbing the trellises, though I had to help a few of them out. And the tomatoes have grown enough that I needed to loop some string around the stakes (thus the discovery of their firstborn). It’s been pretty warm here, getting into the low 80s (27-ish C), and I’d love some rain. Sadly, none is forecast anytime soon and I’m getting nervous this may turn into another drought summer. I really prefer when Mother Nature takes care of watering for me.

In other news, my favoritest pastry chef in Charlotte recently opened a brick-and-mortar location, and I stopped in today to check it out. Here’s a little something to make you hungry.




The chef is French—oh so French—and makes the best pain au chocolat I’ve had stateside. Time to work my network and get this man some press!

That’s about all the excitement I’ve fit in this week, between delivering bread and scooping up spices. That’s ok, even my quiet weeks keep me occupied. It’s good to be busy again!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Food, flowers and Big Trip 2!

I was chatting the other day with my “boss” about my various paying gigs (she’s been a sort of acquaintance/friend for years, so it doesn’t feel like a typical boss-employee relationship), when she concluded, “It sounds to me like you’ve got four jobs.”

I try not to think of it that way. But I have been pretty busy.

On April 19th, my writing gigs got me a free pass as a media judge for one of the Competition Dining events being held in Charlotte. (Here’s one of the stories I wrote about it; in brief it’s a single-elimination bracket pitting a series of local chefs in secret ingredient matchups; the diners get to vote on each course without knowing which chef cooked what.) A couple weeks after I got my tickets, Miss Chef was invited to be a Pro judge for the same night—so we got to go together! And one of the organizers knew us, so we were seated together, even though we went via different organizations and had different contacts at the event.  Cool, huh?

There were six courses, but I won’t include all my photos. Here’s one of the apps:


It’s a tortellini made with purple sweet potato, wrapped around rock shrimp and accompanied by a bit of lobster tail. Poor me, right?

Actually, it was a challenge to keep up the flow of tweets, Instagram photos and Facebook updates while still tasting and entering my scores for each course. I normally wouldn’t blast out every single course of a dinner like this, but I figured I was there as a media person, so I was going to earn my dinner.

Here’s one of the desserts:


It’s an empanada, a cheesecake bite and toasted marshmallow, all made with different kinds of sweet potatoes. Oh, in case you hadn’t figured it out, the secret ingredient was five types of sweet potatoes, from five local farms. Both these dishes were by the winning chef, who defeated one of our good friends. I hated to see Chef Coleman go down, but it was a just victory, as he had some execution issues on a couple of his dishes. Besides, the winner was from last year’s state champion team, so it wasn’t exactly an easy battle.

As April wound down, I made a point of backing off on pitching stories, as I’d piled up too many deadlines before starting my two regular jobs and was about to have a nervous breakdown. So while I do still have some busy, busy days, I’ve finally started to have some free blocks of time. Of course, what else was I going to do with that during the lovely days of spring, but tend to my garden?


Although some of my herbs didn’t do well this winter, the spring garden is finally gaining way, and I’ve just put in my summer plants. You can see the squash and cucumber seed packets in front! On the left of the pathway, inside the stately row of tall garlic plants, the tomatoes have taken up residence. On the right side, you can see the peas finally making a break for the trellis, and the faintest of green smudges that are my tiny carrots and onions.



I didn’t do a great job of reviewing my companion planting information from last year’s workshop, but I do remember that onions chase away lots of pests, and they don’t need much room. So I’m happy to grow as many as I can get!

Here’s a view from the other end.


On the left are three tall stakes I’m using in a partial adaptation of the three sisters planting—no corn, but there are bean seeds at the bottom of each stake, and a squash seed in the center. Every year is an experiment in my garden. Now, I could also point out the two little bell pepper plants on the right side, but I doubt you can really see them, so you’ll just have to believe me. That thing you might want to think is a pepper plant is one of my three remaining broccoli plants. I don’t hold out much hope for a good harvest, as they’re still really small for this late in the spring. Still, I grew them from seed, so they’re gonna get a chance to prove themselves.

This past week I actually had an entire day off, with no writing deadlines, so I even had time to play with nonedible plants. These are some of the dozen or so marigold volunteers that came up in the garden. I potted some up to give away, because I couldn’t stand to toss them all in the compost pile.


A couple of Facebook friends queried whether I was sure they weren’t ragweed! After researching images, I can see why they’d be worried, but I’ve never had ragweed on my property, while I have had lots of prolific marigolds. I ended up planting one in a front bed, and look forward to teasingly posting photos of my “ragweed” flowers later this summer.

I also treated myself to some begonias and a decorative sweet potato vine for my big pot on the front stoop.


I love the white begonia flowers with the darker bronze leaves, but they can be really hard to find. I hit up a local nursery and got mostly white flowers. Close enough.

So, what’s this about Big Trip 2? If you were along for the ride four years ago, you’ll certainly remember our Big Trip to London and Paris. This one’s not quite that big, but this summer we’re finally heading off for another long flight—this time to San Francisco!

I’ve got family out there, including a 20-something cousin I’ve never met(!), and a Thai aunt who is all about some serious home cooking. Once again we are totally overplanning, but this time it’s Miss Chef scheduling everything. She’s already made two big reservations for us: at Coi, a hot new restaurant all about local food, and (drumroll) at the French Laundry, arguably the most influential restaurant in America in the past 20 years. It’s incredibly difficult to get reservations, and I never thought I’d get the chance to eat there. But Miss Chef was determined, and after an hour spent dialing and redialing and sitting on hold, she finally got us seats--at 9:15 pm. Better late than never, right?

I’d probably better stop eating tomorrow.

Anyway, we’re also hoping to do a day trip to Napa valley, and another to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, another bucket list item for both of us. I’m sure I’ll need another vacation to recover from this one, but life’s all about making memories, in my book.

Right now, though, I’ve got to make some clothes clean. So much for my glamorous lifestyle.