Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Burning Hearts

I have been a fan of bleeding hearts for some time now and recently planted two outside of my bedroom window. While I love them, I now wish to rip them out viciously and plant Burning Hearts in their place! You can see a little post about them on Sunset's website here. In case you are feeling too lazy to follow that link, I stole their picture.

And who wouldn't love to say, "I have a bed filled with Burning Hearts outside my bedroom window." Oh my, how delightful. Mwahahahaha. If anyone sees these at a nursery near them, could you pick me up two?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Finished Raised Beds

As of last night Jeffry and I have three completed raised beds filled up with dirt and connected to irrigation. We ordered the dirt on Sunday with a planned delivery of Monday afternoon. In our excitement to fill in our beds and get to planting, we didn't think about the fact that the weather forecast was calling for rain on Monday evening, Tuesday and Wednesday. Once we got home and realized our foolishness, we decided we'd just have to set straight to work the second we got home Monday to get the dirt into the beds before the rain. Even though the wheel barrow had a flat tire, Jeff managed to get the largest raised bed filled up during his lunch break. When I got home I grabbed a couple of five gallon buckets and shuttled dirt from the driveway to the beds while Jeff fixed the tire. It sprinkled on us a bit, and for a while I felt like Dorothy as the wind picked up speed. Luckily it only took us about an hour working together to get all the beds in the front yard and the wine barrels on the side of the house filled up. It made our pile small enough that we could cover it with a tarp and then we headed inside for some hot showers and a warm meal.

Getting dirt delivered in bulk is definitely the way to go. It cost us a little under a dollar for a cubic foot instead of $1.95 for 3/4 of a cubic foot at Wal-mart, and the place we ordered from was just up the street so there was no delivery cost. That cost difference is a big deal when you're ordering 100 cubic feet of dirt! We will be ordering some bark from the same place in the next couple of weeks to fill in around the raised beds.

Some good things to know before you go shopping for dirt: know exactly how much you need and take a calculator. I had calculated how much we needed in cubic feet, but they sold it by the cubic yard. Jeff and I felt quite silly when we were trying to figure out the math and originally thought that there were only nine cubic feet in one cubic yard and left because we thought the landscaping company was a rip off. Oh did I feel ridiculous in the car on the way home when I realized how wrong we had been. In case you are wondering, there are 27 cubic feet in a cubic yard, not nine. Math is not my strong suit alright, but at least we got it all straightened out in the end. I felt extra silly though when we had to return to the place five minutes after we just drove off.

Easter Banner

Coming later this week I will fill you all in on the exciting construction projects and births that have been happening in our home for the last couple of days, but for now, I'd like to share a cute craft project with you. Since the window of decorating/prep time between St. Patrick's Day and Easter is only two weeks this year, I decided not to go overboard on trying to get the house decorated for Easter. By the time I purchased/made everything I'd need and put it up I'd be broke and then probably have to take it down the next day because the holiday was over. One of the few things I have purchased for decorating this year were these cute little bunny clips from Cost Plus for $2.99. That's all I spent on this project. Everything else was just stuff I had lying around the house. If you guys have any fun Easter craft ideas feel free to share.

1 sheet of Eastery colored construction paper
magic markers, colored pencils or crayons
hot glue gun
2 push pins
mini bunny clothes pins
1) Cut 8 rectangles that measure 3 inches by 4 inches out of the construction paper. Then trim the longer sides so that the rectangle becomes a parallelogram. Don't worry about being precise on your measurements, the differences is size/shape will just make it look quirky and fun.

2) Practice how you are going to write out Easter on a scrap sheet of paper. Once you like the way it looks, write out one letter on each piece of construction paper.
3) In different colors, add little decorations to the corners of the cards. I picked swirls and polka dots.
4) With your two remaining cards, draw an Easter related picture such as eggs, bunnies, etc. Clip these into your first and last spaces.
1) Plug in your hot glue gun to let it start heating up.

2) Measure out 15 inches of twine before you start attaching your clothes pins. Starting at 15 inches, place them every three inches, attaching them with the hot glue gun. After you attach your last clothes pin, measure out another 15 inches and cut the twine.

3) Once the glue is completely cooled, tie a loop on each end of your garland, and attach to wall with push pins.
-Instead of writing Easter our by hand, you could also do it with a printer and a cute font. My color cartridge is empty, otherwise I would have chosen that way.
-If you don't live near a Cost Plus, you could also use plain mini-clothes pins which are available at most craft stores.

-When writting the T in Easter, be warned that doing curly swirls on the top or bottom may turn you word to "Easfer" or "Easjer." Just add your swirlys to the bar of the t, instead of the body, to avoid the frustration of redoing your t three times.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Irish Lamb Stew

Dear friends, we have come to the last day of Irish week and will resume regular posting come Monday. For my final post I've saved one of the main courses, traditional Irish stew. We also had corned beef and cabbage of course, but I can explain the makings of that in about 30 seconds. If you need it, give me a call. Irish stew, however, is more of an evening event that, while its not difficult, takes some time. For this recipe I chose to use lamb since it's the traditional choice and some of our friends don't eat beef. Beef is cheaper and more readily available, so feel free to substitute that if you like. I also think this recipe would be awesome with some herby or cheesy dumplings cooked on top!

Irish Lamb Stew

2 lbs. lamb shoulder
½ cup of flour
salt and pepper to taste
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 bottle of Guinness Draught
2 cups of red wine
10 cups of beef stock
4 Tbsp. dried thyme
5 bay leaves
4 Tbsp. ketchup
6-7 medium sized red potatoes
6 large carrots, peeled
2 yellow onions, peeled
4 Tbsp. butter
2 large handfuls of chopped parsley

Chop lamb into bit sized pieces, removing any tough bits. In a bowl mix the flour, 1 Tbsp. of thyme and salt and pepper until well combined. Add the lamb to the flour mixture and stir to coat it. Heat the oil on medium-high heat in a large stock pot then add the meat. Cook the meat for several minutes on each side until all sides are nice and brown.

Once your meat is well browned, add the Guinness, red wine, beef stock, remaining thyme, bay leaves and ketchup to your pot. Stir well, bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and place a lid on the pot. Let simmer for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

While your pot is simmering, chop your potatoes and carrots into bite sized pieces, and finely chop the onion. In a separate pot from the meat, melt the butter on medium-high heat and add the potatoes, carrots and onion. Cook the veggies for about twenty minutes, stirring every few minutes. Try to time it so your veggies are done at the same time that your stew is done simmering (but remember its stew not rocket science, going a little over on the simmering time won’t hurt anything).

Once the veggies are done, add them to the stew pot. Simmer the ingredients together for another 20 minutes to combine the flavors. Ladle the stew into bowls and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.

This dish is really better eaten the next day, so make this up the night before and just reheat before serving. If this is more stew than you think your family can eat, the recipe is easily cut in half, or freeze the extra portion to have as a quick dinner for another day. The original recipe I based this one on came from a beef Irish stew recipe from dianasaura dishes.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Irish" Sweet Potato Bake

We have a new guest blogger with us today!! The lovely Miss Helen from Vacaville kindly agreed to share a post with us about the delicious sweet potato bake she brought to the St. Patrick's Day party. Unfortunately, Helen had to leave before we all sat down to dinner, so she missed most of the guests asking who made the sweet potatoes, followed by, "Tell Helen her sweet potatoes are amazing!" This dish would also be great as a substitute for the traditional candied yams when the Holiday Season rolls back around.

It was my great pleasure to attend the completely delicious St Patty's day party held by my dear friends Jeff and Robin last Saturday. Given that it's a party, especially one given in honor of a dude who drove snakes out of Ireland a la Samuel L. Jackson, how can one not bring food?I decided from the get-go that I wanted to make something different. Something homey and delicious, but devoid of potatoes since I knew they'd be prevalent (this comment should not in any way be construed as "oh look at me, I don't eat potatoes" because that simply isn't true. In fact, I'm eating a potato right now. Raw). But I still wanted to maintain the ethnicity in some way, which meant that my typical dates-stuffed-with-goat-cheese appetizer (ooooh that's a post all its own!) was out. Eventually after googling Irish side dishes I stumbled upon a recipe for a Sweet Potato Bake. I know I'm not alone in saying "I LOVE sweet potatoes!!!"

You may be asking yourself "how are sweet potatoes Irish?" Well, dear reader .... they're not and I was just as baffled as you are as to what about them would make them Irish. Sweet potatoes themselves have their origins in South America, so my guess is that it's more about the preparation and less about the main ingredient; this recipe calls for butter, flour, heavy cream, milk, all ingredients that one may find in scalloped potatoes, which *may* have an origin in Ireland. That's my most educated guess.

Another neat little tidbit is that sweet potatoes are high in complex carbs, fiber, and loads of other goodies the translation of which is that they are extremely good for you. How good for you they are after drowning them in whipping cream and butter isn't important right now. The point is that the decision on what to bring was made, and delicious consequences ensued.

I found this recipe at More specifically here:

8 c. sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced very thin
6 tbsp. butter
1/2 c. flour
2 c. heavy cream
1 c. milk
1/2 c. brown sugar

Oven 350 F

Place potatoes in 3-4 quart casserole. In saucepan, melt butter, stir in brown sugar until dissolved. Stir in flour, then gradually add cream and milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat until thickened. Pour sauce over potatoes. Place casserole on a cookie sheet and cook covered at 350F for 1 hour. Remove cover and cook for another 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Yield: 12 servings

I was amazed at the amount of sweet potato it actually took to come to 8 cups; only two huge potatoes! I'd bought and peeled five just to be safe, so I had plenty of extra which I froze until such time as the world (or more importantly my sweet tooth) needs them. The preparation was remarkably and blissfully easy using the blade feature on my trusty food processor (I'm not a fan of chopping...I just don't have the knack!). It got the potatoes to the perfect width and took all of 15-20 minutes including the peeling and cutting pieces to fit through the portal, so I'd say this is definitely the way to go.
I followed the recipe exactly regarding the cream mixture and I would say that constant stirring is essential. There is an odd satisfaction with working with whipping cream since there is a moment when it is liquid, and then suddenly it isn't; the moment of "catch" as it were. I'd say immediately after boiling, it must be removed from heat and poured over the potatoes. I've only done this once, but the burn probability seemed extremely high. At first I was a little concerned since the cream mixture just sort of sat on top, but of course it was all for naught. As it baked, everything sunk in perfectly and away we went.
I had to run for a few hours, so I didn't get to see the initial reaction of the beloved masses as they sunk their teeth into the concoction, but I have it on good authority that it was well received :-) Oh, and it's great for leftovers. It doesn't need much heating up, and it's also pretty good cold!
Much love,

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Easter Eggs

I know I said this week would be about highlighting the fun foods I made for our Irish night, but I figured maybe I should throw in something about Easter, since that is a holiday you still have time to prepare for! I read an article today from Mother Earth News that I found very interesting about using natural plant dyes for your Easter Eggs that seems easy, fun and educational.

Eggs done with natural dyes.
Picture from MEN's website.

My mom never seemed too big a fan of doing Easter eggs. Perhaps the idea of trying to control the chaos that can ensue when you hand dye over to a couple of rambunctious prone to fighting kids wasn't her idea of a good time. I, however, love doing Easter eggs every year and even as a high schooler would sometimes do a little basket of them just for fun. I did experience a bit of the fear I imagine my mother felt last year when I dyed eggs with small children for the first time. Watching those little cups of dye teeter tottering on the table top as the parents tried to focus the little ones on gently dipping their eggs in them was...a bit scary to say the least. That's not to say I'm not looking forward to dipping a few eggs with the same family this year, I'll just be a bit more prepared for what's in store.

Like many mothers who hear the, "when I'm a mom I'll..." stories and chuckle with the knowledge of what motherhood is really like, I think the mother of the children mentioned above gets a kick out of many of my future child rearing schemes (cloth diapers being a prime example). This natural dye thing might be added to that list, but I think it sounds easy enough to replace the store bought dye sets. If you have a range of kid ages, it can also give the older kids something to contribute by letting them take the reigns/assist in the dye making process.

I could rewrite the basics of the Mother Earth News article, but honestly, theirs was pretty awesome. You should just follow this link and check it out for yourself. It teaches your how to easily make the three primary colors, then you can mix them from there (also educational). Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Soda Bread

When I saw that stew and corned beef were on the menu for our St. Patrick's Day festivities, I new right away that an Irish Soda Bread was in order. Then I got to thinking, if one soda bread is good, then two soda breads must be great! I did a quick search online and came up with a pretty basic herby soda bread recipe. For the second bread, I left out the herbs and added giant handfuls of shredded cheddar cheese. I think the cheesy one was a bit more popular, and beautiful, but next time I would opt for a sharper cheddar and perhaps a head of roasted garlic thrown in as well. Whatever you do to modify this bread with add ins, mix them with the dry ingredients before adding the buttermilk/oil. Also, my food processor did a decent job at mixing the dough, but eventually it just became too much for it. I simply kneaded the bread a bit longer to make sure the ingredients were all well combined.

Basic Soda Bread


4 cups bread flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

Preheat the oven to 325°.

1)In your food processor or mixing bowl, combine 4 cups flour, the chopped herbs, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. Mix for 1 minute. If you are adding any extra flavorings, add them now.

2)Whisk together the buttermilk and vegetable oil in a bowl. Gradually add the buttermilk mixture to the combined dry ingredients while mixing on low speed and continue to mix until the dough forms a ball, about 30 seconds.

3)Scrape the dough away from the sides of the food processor and turn the dough ball over. Mix on low speed for about 30 seconds longer.
4)Transfer the dough ball to a floured surface and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Form the dough into a round loaf, pinching and twisting the bottom a bit to make the loaf taller. Place the loaf, pinched side down, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a nonstick silicone liner.
5)Whisk the egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water, then lightly brush the mixture over the top of the loaf. Score the loaf by cutting a 1/4-inch deep "X" into the top.

6)Bake the loaf in the preheated 325° oven for 55 to 60 minutes. The bread is done when a hollow sound is heard when the bottom is tapped with your finger. Allow the bread to cool to room temperature before slicing.

-For an Herby Bread add 1 heaping teaspoon of dried dill and thyme (one 1 heaping tablespoon of fresh) plus about four shakes of garlic powder. The original recipe also said to add an equal amount of tarragon, but I didn't have any on hand so I left it out.

-For a Cheesy Garlic Bread add about four giant handfuls of coarsely shredded cheddar cheese and one head of chopped roasted garlic. For roasting instructions check out this blog.

You can find the original recipe I used here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Creamy Stuffed Strawberries

I know this isn't the best pic, but I was literally holding a friend back from eating one at the time!

As I said in my last post, this weekend was filled with Irish goodness as we had a group of friends over for an evening of Guinness and savory foods from the Emerald Isle. While I’m not sure if stuffed strawberries are very Irish (hey I had made a loop hole for it by saying the savory foods were authentic), they are very delicious, so I threw them in with the appetizers. These are simple to make, impressive to look at and will quickly disappear once placed within reach of your guests. These would also make a great dessert for an at home romantic evening.

While I made up how to make these, the idea was not originally mine. An old friend of mine used to make a similar dish for potlucks and guarded the recipe with his life because he didn’t want anyone else to start bringing them. I had always respected his secrecy, until we stopped hanging out regularly and having said potlucks. One day I decided that I could probably guess the basic ingredients and gave it a go. Honestly, with these ingredients, it would be hard to make something that wasn’t to die for. Enjoy!

Stuffed Strawberries

One 8 oz. package of cream cheese
¼ cup of powdered sugar
a few shakes of vanilla extract
several splashes of milk

2 small packages of strawberries
½ cup of chocolate chips, or dipping chocolate

1) Wash strawberries and remove their tops and the white insides. Make sure strawberries are completely dry before moving forward.

2) Use a hand mixer to combine the cream cheese, powdered sugar and vanilla extract. Add the milk a splash at a time until the mixture is completely smooth and just thin enough to squeeze easily through a piping bag. It should be similar to a thick frosting.

3) Use a piping bag or make your own out of a Ziploc bag to fill each strawberry with the stuffing.
4) Melt the chocolate either by following the instructions on the bag (if it’s melting chocolate) or using a double boiler.

5) Either dip stuffed strawberries in chocolate and place on wax paper to dry or use the piping bag method again to do some swirls of chocolate on one side of each strawberry. The second method is quicker and less messy, but it’s really a matter of personal preference and time.

6) Refrigerate the strawberries for half an hour to make sure the chocolate sets.
-I bought three packages of strawberries and picked out the bigger ones and had about one package left over of smaller ones. They became part of a fresh fruit salad the next day.

-If you don't have a double boiler, fill a small pot a couple of inches with water and place a glass measuring cup with your chocolate in the pot. Presto! A homemade double boiler. Just be very careful not to get any water in with your chocolate.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Easy Roast Chicken

Hello friends, while I am preparing for a Saturday filled with lots of homemade Irish foods (which will all appear here next week), I wanted to share a new recipe I've found with you. Lately I've been cooking a lot more with bone-in chicken, as opposed to breast, and I'm always on the look out for a new easy recipe to try. This chicken recipe from David Lebovitz's blog would make a great addition to your reliable standby collection, perfect for both a casual mid-week dinner or for company. Although the baking time takes a little while, the prep is very simple. All you have to do is chop a few shallots and measure a few liquids and you're done; the oven does the rest! To make a simple meal you can also chop up some potatoes and roast them at the same time as the chicken.

I went ahead and made this recipe for Jeff and I and ended up with enough for two meals. I reheated it in the oven adding a dash of oil, vinegar and soy sauce to keep it moist and it was even better the second day.

Have a great weekend and happy cooking!

Roast Chicken with Caramelized Shallots
Serves 4 to 6

Adapted from French Farmhouse Cookbook (Workman) by Susan Herrmann Loomis
I use a whole chicken cut into eight pieces; two legs, two thighs, and I cut each breast piece in half, crosswise, keeping the wings attached. You could also just use eight of your favorite chicken pieces.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
4 large shallots, peeled and minced
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
One whole chicken, cut into 8 pieces
generous handful of coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF (220ºC).

2. In a large baking dish, one which will hold all the chicken pieces in a single layer, mix the olive oil, vinegar, soy sauce, shallots, and some salt and pepper.

3. Toss the chicken in the mixture, so they're completely coated with the shallots. Turn the chicken pieces so they are all skin side up.

4. Roast the chicken for about twenty minutes, until it starts to brown on top. Turn the pieces of chicken over. Scrape any juices and shallots over the chicken that may be clinging to the pan, and bake for another twenty minutes, or until the pieces of chicken are cooked through and the shallots are well-caramelized.

5. Remove from oven and toss in the chopped parsley, then serve.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Irish Bloom Day

Ok, so I know it's the day after St. Patrick's Day, but I meant to post this yesterday so please, indulge me.

I would like to take a moment to share with you why I think holidays are so important, before we get to the pretty flower photos. I think that holidays, no matter how silly or commercial, serve to create a sense of community. When you see everyone wandering around wearing green on the same day, eating "traditional" Irish foods, drinking Guinness, etc. it makes you feel a sense of connection to the people around you even if you don't know them. In celebrating a holiday together you have one day when you can't help but recognize cultural connection with the strangers around you.
In addition, holidays give us a way to mark the year. There is always something to look forward to in the coming months as we think of the family gatherings, bbq's, church services, special foods and decorations that will be filling our lives with color and unique memories that we will treasure for the rest of our lives. For me, in addition to being an excuse to get together with friends who would normally never tolerate my love of Celtic music, St. Patrick's Day is when Spring begins (did you know that traditionally you are supposed to plant your peas on St. Patty's Day). It's a day when the world is filled with bright green after the long grey of winter. In celebration of this, I took some snapshots of the pretty flowers that woke up in time to say hello to St. Patrick.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Note Cards

While strolling the aisles at Michael's today in search of some marked down St. Patties Day decorations I stumbled upon some awesome new note cards. I have never been good at remembering to send thank you cards, but I often feel that if I have the note cards I might actually remember to send them. This plan hasn't worked so far, but I still couldn't resist putting these guys in my cart.

A Robin's Nest! Seriously how could I pass that up?! Oh and the sly fox, well that's just sassy, and we could all use a little of that now and again. Perhaps I will use these to start sending random notes of appreciation to people in my life. I know most of us would love to get a little old fashion correspondence in our mail box.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rediscovering Old Friends

This weekend, before I was struck with the plague, I rediscovered two things that had gotten lost in the weeds of our back corner garden. For Jeff's mother's sake, I will begin with the one that relates to turtles.

Last year, as summer was coming to an end, Jeffry decided to let his turtle Ichiban (which he and his mother have cared for since Jeff was a teen) roam the yard and soak up the last rays of the season. Ichiban however, decided that she did not wish to spend her winter in her terrarium, and would rather bury herself somewhere in our yard and wait for spring there. Being a stubborn and trixy little turtle she eluded all our attempts to find her, but I often worried when I had need to dig in the yard or mow the grass that she might come to an untimely ending. Had I not been more observant, she might have meet this end on Saturday as I was hacking, yanking and digging the weeds out of our corner garden. Luckily she caught my eye as she gazed out at me from the overgrown patch of mint which, until very recently, existed in the garden. Jeffry's mother will be happy to know that Ichiban is now safely returned to her cage.

The second thing that was reclaimed from the wilds was the garden itself! Over the winter the little garden patch in our backyard had become quite overgrown and was in desperate need of some TLC. Unfortunately I was in full on yard work mode when I started so I forgot to take a before picture, but it looked something like this:

This photo doesn't really do it justice, but just take my word that it was bad. Very bad. I had to reset several of the boards that hold the dirt in and the rock out, and i discovered several potato plants and green onions that had weathered the winter and were starting to grow again. I think the happiest part was getting rid of the giant mint patch that Jeffry had, until now, refused to let me get pull out. I will be planting a pot full of lovely not overgrown mint to make it up to him, and the chickens thought it was Christmas when I gave them all the weeds and creepy crawlies I had harvested.

As soon as we recover from the plague this patch will be planted with some onion sets, peas and (when the weather warms up a bit more) soy beans.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Recent Sproutings

I can only assume that Blanket was sleeping too soundly one day when a pea thief snuck into the house and plucked the seeds I'd planted before they even had the chance to sprout. The only other possibility is that many of my pea seeds were no longer viable. I think the former seems more likely. Aside from my rather dismal pea sproutage, many of our other planties are growing quite well. I took a few snapshots of their progress.

(so many empty pea spots)

(Borage upfront, with Rutger Tomatoes behind it) (Okra)

I will be trying another round of peas shortly along with several other kinds of tomatoes such as Amish Paste, Golden Jubilee, Purple Russian (sounds like a drink), German Lunch box and Tomatillo (mmm green salsa). Yes my friends I think this summer will be the Summer of the Tomato at our house. I expect several long canning days are ahead of us as we make our own salsas, pasta sauces and soups. If you have any good recipes I'd love to hear them!
We also need to start a round of pepper seedlings such as the traditional Bell Pepper, Jalapenos and Anaheim. In the bean department we are going to try to grow some of our own for drying this year with Scarlet Emperor and Rattlesnake Pole (honestly I picked it for its name) as our two options. Mom will be growing most of our squash seedlings, but we'll be starting some Cocozella di Napoli and the prehistoric looking Australian Butter Squash which grows up to 15 lbs!

Raised Beds Part I

As I mentioned in my last post, Jeffry and I plan to turn our front yard into edible garden space this spring. Since Fall I've been dreaming up different configurations and ways of setting up our garden, wanting something that was both pleasing to look at and functional. Finally we settled on "The Perfect Raised Bed" plans which are available on Sunset's website. I like that they are low profile, made out of lovely redwood and have built-in removable row covers to keep out the large number of wild birds which like to call our little plot home (how our neighborhood has both millions of stray cats and millions of wild birds I still haven't figured out). Hopefully we can find alternatives to using the row covers since they aren't very attractive, but its nice to have the option.

Another fear of mine was that having big rectangular boxes in our front yard would look harsh. I think having them only be 1 foot instead of 2 feet tall combats this somewhat. In addition, I have decided to scatter some wild flower seeds on the ground sort of willy nilly next to the raised beds. I am also thinking of getting either mint or thyme ground cover to plant next to them. I think adding a little wild unplanned feel to them will help soften their impact on the yard. The flowers will also help attract beneficial insects to the garden. I'm not sure how well all of this will work in actual application but hey, wild flower seeds are cheap and the experiences that experimentation brings are priceless.

After spreading a bit of time in the front yard with some wooden dowels and some bright orange surveying tape (that yes went right back into the emergency kit) I decided that we could fit three raised beds on the left side of our yard. They're measurements will be 8' x 4', 7' x 4' and 6' x 4' with the longest one being up by the house and the smallest by the street. I decided to make them progressively smaller to fit in with the meandering path we have doing down the middle of our yard.

It only took us two weeks or so to get around to it (first Jeffry had to sand one side of all the boards to get rid of some unexplained stains), but we finally have the first one built. It still needs to sit for a week or so before we seal the outside of it because we happened to get some of the freshest wood in the world and it needs to dry out a bit first. I did give us an excuse to clean out the garage though because we have to store this big sucker in there while we continue to make two more! I'll post more updates as our little construction project progresses. Thanks Jeffry for working so hard to indulging all my crazy projects!

*UPDATE: Since I wrote this post earlier today another raised bed has been constructed! Jeffry and I were apparently full of energy this evening and decided to bust out another raised bed after dinner. We had two drills this time so things went alot faster since we didn't have to keep changing from a drill bit to a screw driver head. The above picture is of the 7' x 4' bed we just finished building.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Strawberry Patch

Jeff and I got out Saturday morning (ok it was really the afternoon) and finally accomplished some of the planting/building we've been meaning to get around to for the last several weeks. In our defense, it has been quite rainy, and it's dark by the time either of us get home at night, so I don't feel too guilty for enjoying a bit of winter "laziness" lately.

One project I am glad to finally have in the ground and establishing roots is my strawberry patch. A while back I read about a garden designer who likes to line walk ways with strawberries. I thought this would be a great idea for the meandering path that leads from the sidewalk to our front door. My gaze quickly turned however, to the two large built-in planters we have at the end of our front yard. Our yard is raised several feet higher than the sidewalk so it's flat instead of having a gentle slope from the sidewalk to the house. This is great for our plans to have a front yard garden, and resulted in two large planters being created by the retaining wall. This unused weed infested sun drenched location seemed to me to be the perfect place for an even bigger strawberry patch then we had originally envisioned along the walk way!

A few weeks ago we bought a very healthy flat (about 32 plants) of Quinault strawberries from our local nursery for a very reasonable $2.75 per six pack. I had toyed with the idea of buying bare root strawberries since they are even cheaper, but the only local place to find them was at Wal-Mart, and I don't have a lot of faith that their nursery department has properly cared for them. Bare root strawberries are also said to have a higher fail rate than regular strawberry packs, so I figured the initial money savings would probably even out in the end.

I chose to go with Quinualt out of the millions of available strawberry varieties for several reasons. One, they are said to be one of the most disease resistant strawberry varieties available. Two, they have very large fruit and flavor. And third, they are an everbearing variety. I had originally thought of planting two varieties, one june-bearing (determinate) and one everybearing (in-determinant), but ultimately decided given my uses for strawberries that I would be better suited by one that bears fruit all summer. If you like to make a lot of strawberry jam, then a june-bearing variety would be a better choice for you. (A little secret: I don't really eat jam, I just love to make it so I end up with tons of cans that I have to find creative uses for!)

Now all I have left to do is pick a mulch for the area and I will be on my way to a summer filled with sweet homegrown strawberries!! Oh and um, maybe I should weed the front "yard" while I'm at it...

If you plan on growing a strawberry patch of your own, do not plant it where you grew tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant or okra the year before. These plants all can carry Verticillium Rot which can infect your strawberries.