Sunday, March 29, 2009

Starting the Garden

Well, I have a flat of lettuces, a bunch of onion plants, some cabbages and broccoli, and a gazillion pea seeds waiting (not-so) patiently to get in the ground, and it's been raining and threatening snow. In late March. Again.

So I took this relatively warm (only seven degrees below normal), sunny day to loosen up the soil at least where the onions and peas will go, even though we had almost half an inch of rain yesterday. I did it at the end of the day and only did the pea and onion area because that was all my back could take those were the driest areas. The lettuce area was really soggy, and if it's dry tomorrow, I might try to loosen it up a bit.

I don't own a rototiller. It seems pointless for 400 sq feet. I just use a garden fork, dig in to the hilt, and lift up the soil, letting it fall back into place and breaking up the large clods. I try not to turn it over at all, and I definitely have fewer weeds this year as a result. Tomorrow, if the rain holds off, I'll put an inch or so of compost and some fertilizer on top and mix it into the top six inches of soil, then rake it out and get the peas and onions in.

The thing is, I have so much to get into the ground, I'm going to need to get another 80 square feet prepared by midweek, and we're supposed to get more rain. The weekend looks like it'll be fairly dry, so I guess everything will be another 3-4days late.

People ask me if I've "gotten my garden in." This is a strange concept to me. My garden is never "out". I generally start in March and am constantly planting until October, when the overwintering garlic goes in.

This has several advantages. First, I'm not trying to get all four beds going at once. I'm only trying to get one and a half in now. Secondly, I harvest short-cycle plants like lettuce and radish all summer. Third, in Western Washington, if you waited to put your peas in at the same time as your squash and tomatoes, they'd wither in the heat, if not succomb to pea enation virus. And lastly, I have the opportunity to plant fall crops in the beds that the spring veggies are finished with, without needing extra space.

Here's hoping for warmer, drier weather....

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Local - Shades of Gray

Whenever I think of shopping "local," I am always confused by what that really means. On the extreme side, there are the farmers close by, if they have a roadside stand or visit my town's farmers' market. That's the ideal, of course, which is only available to me from July to October.

But beyond that, it becomes a really gray area to me. A locally owned restaurant generally buys all the food and paper products from far away, so how much stays local, really? Is it any more than, say, McDonald's, who pays a few cents more an hour to their staff? Or a trinket shop whose goods are all made in China?

And then, what about locally owned chains, like Top Food/Haggen's? They promote locally produced food. Is it such blasphemy to shop there? Yes, it's a chain, but doesn't the money stay within Western Washington (Bellingham)? After that, you've hit a slippery slope - Starbucks, Fred Meyer, Costco, even Amazon. Although most of what's in those stores doesn't come from my local area, they are at least locally owned.

But then, the franchise owner of the McDonald's would say that he owns his franchise....

Where does one draw the line?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Signs of Spring

Spring is approaching, albeit late. The shotweed is finally flowering. There have been years where it was blooming by mid-February, but this year's been another cold one. The sixth snowiest since 1948? Yikes. The purple flowering plums have a hazy purplish tinge to them, and the pear and apple tree buds are starting to swell. There was a lady bug on one of the apple trees yesterday.

I've been setting out the cabbages, broccoli and lettuces during the day, and bringing them in when the temp hits 40 degrees. Each day I put them out a little earlier and bring them in a little later to get them used to the idea that they're going to have to get cold soon. I always wonder if they get really messed up, since they're colder during the day, and warmer at night as babies, and then they abruptly have to switch.

My onion plants arrived on Monday. I've set them just outside the back door to stay cool and moist, but not freezing. They need to get into the ground, the sooner the better. I spent some time today weeding the veggie bed where they are going to go, and the bit where the lettuces are going to be. If Wednesday or Thursday of next week is nice enough, I'll transplant them then. Still haven't planted the peas. I'll try to get that done on Sunday.

Planting is about to go into high gear! Around April 1st, in go the broccoli, cabbages, and lettuces, and I'll be seeding more lettuce, and radishes and spinach. At mid-month I'll be sowing scallions, and winter squash. And then it gets really crazy!

I also chopped down the bay trees that were nearly killed when it got so cold. There was a little live wood left, but since I have a giant one on the south side of the house which fared much better, I'm (with a lot of help from Mr. E) going to rip these out and put in something not quite so large.

Finally got the tomatoes seeded today. So much for an early start on those. It's difficult to think about planting heat-loving tomatoes when there is so much snow! I'm going to have four Stupice, four Siletz, two Oregon Cherry, and six Oregon Star. I have yet to find a sauce tomato that will ripen in our cool summers. I'm hoping that these Oregonian tomatoes can handle the cold.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Mediterranean Lentil Soup

I'm on a lentil kick, since I bought a ton online, and now I have to deal with all of them!

There's a restaurant in Bellevue called Mediterranean Kitchen which has the yummiest food in ginormous portions. They always start you with a soup, pita and hummus, and for years they had a spicy lentil soup that was to die for. I've tried looking online, but haven't found one that was remotely close. However, there is one in America's Test Kitchen New Best Recipe that I think is spot on.

Hearty Lentil Soup with Fragrant Spices

3 slices (about 3 ounces) bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped fine
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes*
1 bay leaf
1 tsp minces fresh thyme leaves
1 cup (7 oz) lentils, rinsed and picked over
1 tsp salt
Ground Black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
4-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 tsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp minced fresh cilantro

1. Fry the bacon in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisp, 3-4 min. Add the onion and carrots; cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 min. Add the garlic, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and cayenne and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the lentils, salt, and pepper to taste; cover, reduce the heat to medium low, and cook until the vegetables are softened and the lentils have darkened, 8-10 min.

2. Uncover, increase the heat to high, add the wine, and bring to a simmer. Add the chicken broth and water; bring to a boil, cover partially, and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape, 30 to 35 minutes; discard the bay leaf.

3. Use a stick blender to blend soup to your preferred consistency **. Stir in lemon juice and 2 Tbsp cilantro and serve, garnishing with remaining cilantro.

* The original instructions have drained tomatoes, but I didn't bother draining them, and I don't think they need to.

** If you don't have a nifty stick blender, puree 3 cups of soup in a blender until smooth, add it back to the soup, add the lemon juice and heat on med-low for another 5 minutes before adding the cilantro.

Thankfully, I was planning ahead and pulled some carrots for this out of the garden before all the snow and deep-freeze temperatures hit.

Now, if I can just figure out their recipe for lamb swarma....

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yup, it's Still Winter

I know that there are 11 more days until spring, but winter is really holding on here. I haven't planted the peas yet, and it looks like it'll still be a while before I can.

Temps are forecast in the upper teens for tonight, so I'm glad I've kept these guys in the garage.

I've had to remove one layer of 2x4s since the plants were practically touching the lights.

I still haven't planted the tomatoes, but will get on it this week. I was kind of hoping that I'd have the lettuce, cabbage and broccoli outdoors a bit by now so there'd be more room, but Mother Nature decided otherwise.

I got hit with a cold last Monday that left me exhausted, so not much was accomplished last week. I did finish one of the baby afghans, and started on the second a couple of days ago. I'll post pix when they're both finished and ready to go.

Yesterday was spent in the kitchen baking cookies, bread, and making a batch of hummus. Today is being spent washing heaps of clothing. Tonight I'm making a new lentil soup recipe. With all the snow, it's going to be a "soup night," as my mother calls it.