Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tired and Happy

Whew, what a day. My husband and I are literally draped over the couch like wet blankets. We spent this beautiful Saturday out in the yard, and then busy in the kitchen.

It all started out with an early trip to Lowe's to pick up some mulch, soil, and other assorted gardening items. I then proceeded to 90% finish up the new bed I created out back. I layed down more soil and mulch so that it now has the shape that I want. The only things missing now are the stones to line it and a birdbath plopped down in the middle. I like the space I've created - it has a minimalist feel to it and gets a lot of shade - peaceful and inspiring, just how I like my gardens.

While I was out, I planted some coral bells in the front bed, as well as organized my gardening table in the garage, which was looking sort of like a bomb went off in the vicinity. Meanwhile, I had set all of the seedlings but the tomatoes outside for their first taste of the great outdoors - my first experience with "hardening-off". They all seemed to do pretty well. I made sure to keep them in the shade and to only have them out for a few hours. At the tail end of things, I had a hankering to separate some of the more mature seedlings so they wouldn't get too root-bound and tangled with each other. The marigolds now have their own pot which will gradually make itself outside and in the sun. The fish peppers have now been separated and planted into cells in the same container as the tomatoes. If all goes well, I'll be separating more in the near future.

Speaking of tomatoes, take a look at this little beauty!

While I was sweating it out, my husband bagged quite a bit of yard waste and mowed and trimmed the lawn. It feels so good to be out in a yard of my own. Things that seem like second nature to most people (i.e. mowing the lawn), are a new adventure for us. Yes, we are the dorky amateurs on the street taking pictures of the lawnmower.

In other news, I had a nice little mid-day snack of baby radish, which were just bite-sized and young enough to be a little bit sweet:

The second half of our day was spent in the kitchen. My arugula had reached the point where it needed to be used while it was still small and tender. I didn't want to let it go too far and get tough and bitter. I harvested the whole half container that I had planted. So, what was I to do with a colander full of fresh baby arugula? Make white pizzas, of course.

For several years, my husband and I have drooled over this pizza from Pizzeria Bianco. The "Biancoverde" consists of homemade dough, fresh mozzarella and ricotta cheese, peppered with Parmigiano Reggiano, and crowned with fresh baby arugula straight from the chef's garden. Being the pizza nerds that we are, I couldn't help but suggest this as the medium to display my beautiful arugula.

I started by making the dough from scratch using the same recipe that we used when we made pizza before. Next I carefully harvested the arugula and rinsed it. Here is the before picture:

After slicing the fresh buffalo mozzarella and grating the parmesean, we began to assemble: dough on a floured pizza peel, brush of olive oil, minced fresh garlic, smear of ricotta, dash of oregano and cracked black pepper, scattered morsels of mozzarella - BAKE - out of the oven mound on the arugula and sprinkle with kosher salt and a drizzle of olive oil.

Let me tell you, while we've never had a genuine Biancoverde, I have to think that our creation would at least come close. It was delicious - and all the more satisfying to know that a part of our dinner came straight from our garden.

Talk about the miracle of life!

Monday, April 20, 2009


Like clockwork, all three types of tomatoes sprouted today: Black Krim, Brandywine, and Green Zebra (pictured):

It's like they were scheming to knock my socks off all at once. I planted them last Monday, so that's a seven day germination time - not bad.

Coincidentally, today I finally received my last two types of tomatoes in the mail from Victory Seeds: Black Cherry and Gold Nugget. They have been dutifully planted next to the others. They have all been planted a bit late, but that's just another lesson learned for next year. They'll probably just end up being set outside a littler later than normal.

My husband and I took our first trip of the year to Findlay Market this past weekend - we both had a hankering for Blue Oven Bakery bread and some Gibbs cheese. I have to say, it's amazing how trendy heirloom tomatoes have become - many of the early season plant vendors were selling heirloom seedlings. I don't remember seeing that many last year. Supply and demand...we'll I'm my own supplier this year, dammit!

Sunday, April 19, 2009


There are a few sprouts that I haven't shown yet because they are, shall we say, developmentally challenged. Here are the few stragglers that I didn't picture last time:




And for the big ta-da, some newly sprouted Thai Holy Basil, for your viewing pleasure:

Yesterday was grueling, but fun. I took up the task of creating a new flower bed on one side of our back yard. Let's just say that it's the side that turns into a mini mud-pit every time we get more than a sprinkle of rain. The grass there was balding and the soil packed and soggy. I spent several hours digging up dying grass clumps, spreading bags of nice new soil, planting some donated plants from my mother (epimedium, varietal wild ginger, bluebells, california poppy, sweet woodruff, and a few others), arranging some donated rocks, and spreading bags of mulch.

Needless to say, it's not done, it's not perfect, but I think it will look much more pleasing to the eyes when I'm finished. I'm going to pick up a load of small boulders in the upcoming week or two so I can line the bed with something definitive. Right now the front border is being determined by a huge cumbersome tree root. I can see why the previous owners never really did anything with the back yard - it was brutual trying to dig around those tree roots. The same thing that I love about Pleasant Ridge will probably turn out to be the thing that gives me back pain - the beautiful old rooty trees.

I've been spoiled up until now - balcony container gardening is MUCH less work than actually sweating over a shovel.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Tomato and Basil - A Match Made for the Gods

Take a gander at the gorgeous velvety purple underside of the thyme leaves:

The seeds I ordered from Baker Creek came in the mail today. That means that as soon as I got home from work I scampered down to the basement to get some more seeds in the soil. I had an extra seedling tray that wasn't being used, in addition to the two slots that had been vacated by the zucchini and squash. The two bigger slots were seeded with the two varieties of basil: Fine Verde and Thai Holy Kaprao.

My 40-count tray is now designated "The Tomato Tray". I planted a row of 5 for each of the three varieties that came today: Black Krim, Brandywine, and Green Zebra. I have two more rows designated for the seeds still in transit: Gold Nugget and Black Cherry.

As you can see, I finally broke down and bought some labels. My hand scribbled notes just aren't cutting it anymore. Somehow it makes me feel a little less amateurish...whatever that means!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

So Much to Report...

Almost exclusively good news to report on the sprouting campaign. The little babies have been growing nicely the past week or so - some more than others.

My prediction for the zucchini and squash seedlings came to fruition - last weekend I had to perform an emergency transplant.

Both groups of seedlings were growing so fast and becoming so leafy that they were crowding the others in the nursery. I moved both sets into what I intend to be their summer-long containers. They are still in the basement but have been moved to a different window that gets good sunlight the second half of the day. It's been a week and they don't seem to be taking it too tough - I'm afraid there won't be enough light for them. Hopefully they'll be able to limp by until it's warm enough to set them outside. If not, I may be forced to start them all over again. Other updates:
  • Marigold: bushy and ready to be spread out, will have to wait a little bit longer for the weather to warm up
  • Dill: feathery and aromatic, I snipped a few sprigs this morning for a sandwich
  • Fish Pepper: most seeds are up, some are starting to develop their first true leaves
  • Red Marconi Pepper: finally sprouted this week, I have two seedlings so far
  • Lavender: haven't had much luck with this, re-sowed this week but not as deep
  • Eggplant: most seeds are up, they seem to be slow growers
  • Melon: one seed is up, he's holding his own but growing slowly, I sowed some additional seeds just in case
  • Thyme: beautiful fuzzy leaves, smell so lemony and earthy
  • Oregano: few seedlings are up, again I think I planted them too deep, re-sowed on the surface
  • Catnip: several seedlings up, seem to be growing pretty quickly
  • Beets: thinned them out this week, getting their true leaves
  • Kohlrabi: thinned these out as well, looking like happy plants
  • Radish: thinned them out, getting their prickly true leaves
  • Carrot: slower to sprout than others, but coming along
  • Lettuce: need to re-sow, I think all this rain has cause several seedlings to dampen off
  • Arugula: an abundance!

I know that earlier I said I was just going to buy tomato plants from a nursery, but this week I got bit by the bug again and ordered some tomato seeds. I have a bit of confidence after my first round of success, and I'm eager to see if I can keep up the good record with my favorite vegetable of all. I ordered:

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds:
  • Tomato, Brandywine
  • Tomato, Black Krim
  • Tomato, Green Zebra (one of my favs)
  • Basil, Fine Verde
  • Basil, Thai Holy Kaprao
From Victory Seeds:
  • Tomato, Black Cherry
  • Tomato, Gold Nugget
You can never have enough seeds, right? I'm sure some will like Cincinnati weather better than others, but I'm shooting for a variety. When I placed my first seed order this year they were out of basil, so I'm stocking up now. I'd be tickled if I could grow some Thai Holy Basil - just thinking about a dish of basily, garlicky Pad Gra Pow Tofu is making my taste buds sweat - YUM!

A Tribute to George

I'd like to dedicate this post to George, our newfound vagrant lizard who lives in our front flower bed.

Last weekend my husband and I were both out doing yardwork (read: first time mowing the lawn...EVER) and I heard some rustling in the tall desert grass next to me. Low and behold, it was one of the small Lazarus Lizards who have made this area of Cincinnati their home - they're frequently called Ault Park lizards because there are roving packs of them who love to sun themselves at beautiful Ault Park on a warm day. We have dubbed our new friend "George":

He's quite a looker - a mini Kimodo Dragon of sorts. I was immediately tickled and took George as a sign of good luck for my future gardening endeavors. I felt the same excited spark I used to feel as a child when I would be wading in the creek catching frogs and crawdads, or finding turtles in the forest.

Well, today we spotted George out sunning himself again. While trying to get close enough to get a good look, we spotted a crack in the steps at the base of the house. Upon closer examination the harmless looking crack turned out to be quite a hole. My husband stuck a stick in and it went in a good 6 inches - not a good thing.

We went back inside and discussed what to do - we can't have insects, snakes, or other animals crawling into our house. We decided to head over to the hardware store and get some concrete filler, and just as we stepped out the door, we glanced over to the hole and saw a quick rustle. We looked at each other - "Please don't tell me the lizard lives there." As we stood discussing the ethics of holing the poor lizard's home over, little George poked his scaly snout out of the hole. Rats.

After much deliberation, we decided that there were plenty of other appealing holes on our property and that George was just going to have to pack up and relocate. As much as I hate displacing the little guy, I would hate it even more to have a snake sitting on our sofa one day. We chased him out of his hole and duct taped it over while we made a trip to the store. It's now patched over.

I sure hope that George can forgive us for chasing him out. We still want you around, just not shimmied into our foundation...see you around little buddy!