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I’ve long been an advocate of every season BUT summer. Hot, humid, languid, permanent afro — none of these qualities are particularly endearing to me. However, while there are rewarding things about gardening in the spring and summer, there is something about a summer garden that is steadily transforming me into a summer lover.

I realized this yesterday morning, which Sprout and I spent under the fig tree. Teaching her how to pick fruit and vegetables for herself and pop them right in her mouth — there is something undeniably fulfilling and magical about this act — and then I remember that it’s not magic — this is one of God’s carefully crafted perfect provisions for us. And that we are richly blessed to have a tangible reminder of the truth that is very, very true, whether we recognize it or not — that God faithfully provides for us every single moment of every single day. That he protects us like he protects the seedings when they’re young and growing. That he lovingly re-shapes us into something even more beautiful when we acknowledge that we’re totally wrecked, like our garden this spring. That he delights in us when we bear fruit.

“These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” Psalm 104:27-28

And as a side note, is there any fruit prettier than a fig?

So, as we’ve harvested veggies from our garden, here are a few of my go-to recipes for fresh summer produce.

Fig Preserves

8 cups of figs
1/2 Tbsp baking soda
6 cups of boiling water
4 cups white sugar
2 cups water
1/2 sliced lemon

In a large mixing bowl place figs and sprinkle with baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the figs and soak for 1 hour.
Drain figs and rinse thoroughly with cold water. In a large Dutch oven combine the sugar and the 4 cups of water; bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes.
Add the figs and lemon slices to the syrup in the Dutch oven and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Spoon figs into hot, sterilized jars and spoon syrup over figs, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Top jars with lids and screw bands on tightly. Process for 10 minutes in a hot water bath.

Tomato Sauce

Extra-virgin olive oil
Fresh garlic, coarsely chopped with some nice salt and allowed to sit 10 minutes if possible
Plenty of vine-ripened, garden fresh tomatoes cut into chunks (I use a serrated knife)
Fresh basil (at least twice as much as you think seems like the right amount—I measure fresh basil by the handful)
Fresh oregano (more than you’re about to put in)

Heat the olive oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, then add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not allow the garlic to brown.

Add the tomatoes, basil, and oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid cooks out. Cooking time will depend on the juiciness of the tomatoes.


When there is still some liquid left in the pan, carefully puree the sauce using a blender or a food processor.

Bring the sauce back to a boil and continue simmering until desired consistency. Let cool, then spread on pizza dough. (I have a great pizza dough recipe, too — I will get that on here another day)

Squash Cakes (from the kitchen of Brooke Burgess)

2 cups cooked squash, mashed
2/3 cup Jiffy corn muffin mix
1/2 cup chopped onion (I do this in the food processor to get it finely chopped)
1 egg
1/2 c Canola oil

Mix together corn muffin mix, onion, and egg. Add this mixture to the mashed, cooked squash. Heat Canola oil in skillet, then drop large spoonfuls of the batter onto the skillet, and cook a few minutes on each side until golden. The Sprout LOVES these.

Zucchini Bread (also from Brooke’s kitchen)

3 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated, unpeeled zucchini
3 tsp vanilla
1 c all purpose flour
1 c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tsp cinnamon
1 c chopped nuts

Preheat oven to 350. Beat eggs and sugars together. Mix in oil, zucchini, and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and beat into mixture. Stir in chopped nuts. Pour batter into two greased and floured 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Check at 40 minutes, but cook for one hour. Best if allowed to cool for a few hours after baking.

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There’s really no accounting for the long gap between posts, other than that the spark of writing inspiration somehow got buried deep in a pile of dirty laundry.

The storm damage clean-up in our yard (which was paltry compared to the heavily damaged parts of town) has been a gradual process. The upside is that I’m now proficient at dealing with all manner of tree men.

We went to the beach. At the time we had a crawling toothless baby.

Two months later I have a toddler with a mouthful of teeth who runs wind sprints with our dog around the back yard.

We had a garden party for the Sprout. She was shockingly delicate with her first bites of chocolate.

If I’m judging by the jars she foraged around for in the pantry this morning and brought into the den, she has now moved on and has a taste for capers and Caesar dressing. [To the worried grandmothers: don’t worry, the bottles were closed.]

The Goose has acquiesced to her new role as the Sprout’s best friend. I assume because of the added perks of the job [read: apricots, cheerios, popsicles].

We went to the lake with sweet friends. Absolutely no fun was had.

Against all my expectations, our resilient garden, after being crushed by a 100 year old oak tree in April, has grown back beautifully. Sprout likes to pick black eyed susans and cherry tomatoes. I am trying to get her to enjoy the squash and zucchini.

Does anyone have a good recipe for homemade spaghetti sauce using your own tomatoes? I have 13 juicy red ones in the window that I’m hoping to transform into some kind of sauce this week.

We ate our first ripe figs yesterday. Hooray. Sprout is eating them by the handful

We’ve enjoyed time with family as they’ve come through town, a family reunion, an unexpected funeral, and through the magic of Skype.

FCL has put in long hours this summer on a big work project, but it has made our time with him that much more precious. One byproduct is that we’ve gotten to scatter Cheerios all over the floor of his fancy downtown office on our visits there. It has also made our sweet neighbors that much more dear, as Sprout and I have spent many nights sharing a dinner table with them instead of eating alone.

So, the summer is zipping by. And on that note I will zip off of my computer.

So here’s what’s going on at our house.

Lots of time in the yard and garden. Look! Strawberries!

Garlic!

Radishes!

Lettuce!

Moles!

Moles. My perennial nemesis has returned to taunt me by tunneling directly under the fresh zinnia seedlings I transplanted last Sunday, rendering them rootless. The labyrinth of mole tunnels and gopher kingdoms running underground in our backyard might be in line for some Guinness Book record. Maybe that’s what’s going on here. A Shawshank style tunneling competition fueled by nutrients from the juicy roots of my tulips, dahlias, coneflowers, and so on and so forth.

Oh, and also this is going on at our house. Someone has wised up that the most lucrative spot to be during meal time is directly underneath a 10-month old’s fingers.

Oh, and also this. Because apparently the Sprout is weird like her mother.

I’ve had several folks ask, recently, what we’re growing in the garden this year, and for timing, recommendations, etc. on planting. Since planting season is upon us* and I’ve already worn down FCL’s ears talking about it, I thought I’d outline some thoughts on the blog.

If you’re not interested in gardening, this epistle will be of little excitement to you.

IF YOU ARE AN EXPERIENCED GARDENER, LOOK AWAY NOW. I AM NO SUCH THING.

(But if you are, will you please leave your name, phone number, email address, fax, favorite color, etc. in the comments section? xoxoxo.)

I blame the previous owners of our house (and genetics) for my interest in gardening. When we bought our house, it was evident that the folks who lived here before us took great pleasure in tending their front yard. Unfortunately, they ‘tended’ the front yard by creating elaborate beds half filled with odd plants that bloom hot pink, collecting yard art, and curating a vast collection of incredibly invasive plants for which I have no taste.

So, in an attempt to modify our yard to look less like a crazy cat lady lives in our house, I had to learn about the things already growing in our (full shade) front yard. I killed at least 6 full sun plants the first year we lived here by trying to coax them to exist in our full shade front yard. I am still learning to embrace the shade. Things like this and this have helped.

Our primary garden (in the backyard) is 24 feet by 7 feet. I used to think this was huge -now I think I could fill 4 beds this size. We have great soil up here, so instead of a totally raised bed, several years ago we dug out a space (and by we, I mean at least 70%, if not more, of my patient husband, sometimes after dark wearing a headlamp) and then mixed our soil with purchased soil, compost, manure, and peat.

I have a couple of little spaces at the foot of our deck that we use for gardening as well. This space housed The Great Pumpkin Experiment of 2010, which I’ll detail in a later post. Suffice it to say, FCL has banned me from pumpkin production this year.

Here’s a list of the plants we are growing and plan to grow this year with very (VERY) brief notes as to when to plant, and how (from seed, transplant, bulb, etc.). Notes on care will come later in the season, I suppose.

I’ll go into greater detail as I have stories to tell about the growth of each. If this year is anything like the last several, the growing season will involve some kind of garden pest convention in the middle of my vegetables, my hate/hate relationship with the people who work at Lowe’s, a shovel, gophers, me wringing my hands and biting my fingernails, and a dead gardenia (I cannot help but plant this, my favorite flower, every year, and subsequently kill it).

English Roses

LD Braithwaite, Pat Austin, Jude the Obscure, Sharifa Asma, Graham Thomas, and Golden Celebration

Plant from bare root in February/March using manure, bone meal, and mulch.

Source: David Austin Roses



Daisies- Alaska

Perennial (which I’m guessing you know, but just in case, means it comes back year after year). I’ve been told that in our area (planting zone 7b, for Birmingham, 8 for Jackson) the rule of thumb is to plant tender perennials and summer annuals on Good Friday, not before. Some years I am patient enough to wait this long, others I am not. I will say, it is probably better to abide by this rule.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Phlox David

Perennial. Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Rudbeckia Prairie Sun (Black Eyed Susans)

Perennial/Annual – it depends on which kind you have. Mine have come back every year. Start from seed indoors in early March (using something like this). Transplant to yard on Good Friday. This can spread, so watch it if you’re in a limited space.

Source: Harris Seeds

Dahlia- Honeydew, McAlister’s

Perennial. I heart Dahlias. I have successfully divided and multiplied their tubers, but gophers and slugs take out the bulk of my growth every year. Not to be diverted, I am planting my tubers this year in chicken wire and coating them in hot sauce. We shall see. Plant tubers in March.

Source: Swan Island Dahlias

Sunflowers- autumn mix

Annual. Sow directly in the ground outdoors Good Friday. Make sure your dog doesn’t trample the bed mid-season.

Source: Lowe’s, Harris Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Echinacia (Purple Coneflowers)

Perennial. Start seeds indoors in early March. Move transplants outdoors on Good Friday. Or buy transplants at a garden center.

Source: Lowe’s

Cosmos- orange, versailles

Annual. Scatter seeds outdoors on Good Friday, and again in May and June for repeat blooms throughout summer. Seeds are VERY EASY to collect once the flowers die, and then you have your crop for next summer.

Source: my grandmother’s garden, Harris Seeds

Coreopsis

Perennial. Plant outdoors on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Peony

Perennial. Ideally, plant transplant in fall for bloom the next spring. Slow growing, but gorgeous.

Source: Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Hanna’s Garden Shop

Daffodil

Perennial. Plant bulbs in fall, 4-6″ deep. The bulbs are poisonous, so gophers/moles won’t pilfer them. They are the only bulbs that survive in my garden, and they are gorgeous.

Source: Old House Gardens, Costco

Garlic

Perennial, apparently. It took all of last season to figure out what exactly this alien plant was growing in my garden, since I didn’t remember planting any garlic. 5 foot tall stalks, beautiful purple globular flower. Smells like… garlic.

Source: I have no idea where I purchased this, or when I planted it, but it grows.

Kniphofia Flamenco

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Eryguim Blue Hobbit

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Dianthus Desmond

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Aquilega Black Barlow

Perennial. This will be our first year growing. Plan to plant on Good Friday. This is a shade plan with (shocking) blue flowers. Front yard addition!

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Carrots- Nantidino and Scarlet Nantes

Annual. Direct sow seed outdoors February or March.

Source: Harris Seeds

Tomato – Super Sweet, Big Boy, Scarlet Red, Tornadose Des Conores

Annual. Start seeds indoors in early March. Transplant outside Good Friday or later. I did all heirloom seeds last year, which produced a few beautiful tomatoes, but which are much more susceptible to drought in the South. This year I’m primarily sticking to more hearty types.

Source: Harris Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Watermelon- Verona

Annual. Last year’s watermelon failed because it was overrun by the aforementioned pumpkin experiment. This year I plan to baby it. Start seed inside in late March, and transplant outdoors after Good Friday.

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. This variety was developed in 1965 at MISSISSIPPI STATE UNIVERSITY! I’m sure it will taste like WINNING but hopefully not like tiger blood or warlocks.

Cantaloupe

Annual. This will be my first try at this. I plan to purchase a transplant at Lowe’s or Andy’s Farm Market and put in the ground on Good Friday. This one probably needs to be trellised.

Zucchini – Elite

Annual. This is year number one on zucchini also. Start seeds indoors at the end of March. Transplant outdoors on Good Friday. This needs to be trellised. I will grow it on my garden fence.

Source: Harris Seeds

Cucumber – Japanese Long

Annual. We have had prolific cucumber crops the last few years. You can either start from seed in late March to transplant outdoors on Good Friday, or wait and just direct seed outside in late April. Trellis this one.

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Lettuce- Buttercrunch, Arugula, Red Sail

Annual. Direct seed outdoors in February or March, and again in September for a fall crop. This will die out once it gets particularly hot outside. Arugula is typically the best performer.

Source: Dr. Lou Heck- master gardener, and Harris Seeds

Herbs- tarragon, sweet basil, cinnamon basil, opal basil, cilantro, rosemary, flat leaf parsley, pineapple sage, lemon thyme, oregano, dill, mint, chocolate mint, chives

All except basil can be started in early March. I usually buy transplants because they’re cheap and I’m impatient. Rosemary and mint are perennial, parsley is biennial, and the rest are kind of hit or miss as to whether they’ll last beyond the winter. Basil needs to wait until Good Friday to be planted. All of these need full sun, except the mint and rosemary, which can tolerate part sun.

Source: Andy’s Farm Market, Pepper Place market

Zinnia- Benary’s Giant, Dreamland, Magellen, Cactus, California Giant, Starkville Mystery Mix

Annual. My summer staple. Start from seed in early March, and transplant outside on Good Friday.

Source: Harris Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Gaddis Hunt. If you are anywhere near Starkville, Miss., whatever you do, BUY A FLAT OF ZINNIAS FROM GADDIS HUNT. They are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, and they grow like a charm. He sells a flat (20 plants) for $10, and if you’re interested, I have his phone number.

Hellenium Mardi Gras

Perennial. Plant transplant on Good Friday.

Source: Bluestone Perennials

Strawberry

Perennial/Annual. I guess it just depends. I planted seeds last year that didn’t amount to much, but there are still small plants growing in the garden. And now thanks to sweet FCL, who brought home some transplants yesterday as a surprise, we may actually have a strawberry harvest this spring. Sow seeds outside maybe in the fall or winter for a spring harvest?

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Leaf and Petal

Radish

This will be year number one on the radishes. Sow seeds outside in late February/early March.

Source: Dr. Lou Heck- master gardener.

Cockscomb- Indiana Giant

Annual. Start seeds indoors in early March, move transplants outside on Good Friday. EASY to collect the seeds from these bad boys to have for next summer’s garden. This is the fuchsia plant that looks like a brain.

Source: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Daylily

Perennial. Put transplants in the ground on Good Friday, or in late summer for the following year. Daylilies make prolific “babies,” so you’ll end up with triple the amount you planted originally within a couple of years.

Source: Shepherd Daylily Far

If you’re thinking about starting, or expanding, your garden this year, I hope this gives you something to chew on!

If this is your first year starting from seed, here’s a great step-by-step: http://awaytogarden.com/seed-starting-basics.

Happy Seed Season!

*for SOME things, not ALL things 🙂

Two projects tackled this week – both (kind of) food related.

The first: recipe organization.

Everyone has a unique system for organizing recipes. Some are more efficient than others. Mine did not fall into that category.

I love to tear recipes out of magazines (or dog ear recipes, and leave stacks of 3 year old magazines all over our house). I have a cardboard magazine holder stuffed with torn-out magazine recipes, printed out 3 x 5’s from the computer, and hand-written recipes gathered from friends. Every time I need one of the recipes, I dump out the growing pile on the kitchen table and hunt through the stack one-by-one (and invariably the one I’m looking for is always on the bottom of the pile).

I’ve been intending for at least a year to transcribe all of these recipes into my hand-written recipe book. I knew I’d have ALL THIS TIME being at home with the Sprout. Right. That’s reeaallly working out.

So, the rain, cold, and runny-nosed child kept me home long enough this week to be able to trim all the torn recipes, categorize them, and glue them into a spiral notebook. So much less work than transcribing — and now in many cases, I have pictures of the food as well.

I heart organization.

The next project is only obliquely food related… but much more fun. GARDEN PLANNING!

Don’t mock my 96-pack of Crayons. They make me happy.

For anyone who’s contemplating a vegetable or flower garden, I so encourage you to sketch it out to scale before you start planting. I still fight the battle each year of planting way too much in my small space (read: pumpkins) – but it would be so much worse if I didn’t draw it out beforehand.

First, read your seed/flower catalogs. Make a list of what you like. Research to make sure it grows well in your area, and write down the size/watering requirements. Sketch out your garden – how do you want it to look? Do you want space between all your plants, or do you want more of a cottage garden look? Do you enjoy weeding (if you do, will you come move into the house next door)?

Then think through which seasons in which the plants will bloom/ripen, their colors, etc., and get to sketching.

I have this great sketchpad that makes this easy. I’ve seen it at several different shops. You can also buy it from Terrain. If you remotely love flowers or garden-y things, you will love this shop. I also have a birthday coming up. Ahem.

Even though there’s ice on the trees in our yard this morning, the fact that

THIS

is going on outside under the leaves and frozen tundra in our yard makes me immeasurably happy.

The last days have been spent offline doing wintry things.

Wintry things like changing my sprout’s explosive diaper in the backseat of my car in 20 degree weather – resulting in widespread poop distribution from the car seat, to my arms, to her head. Oops.

Wintry things like dissecting the contents of my favorite seed catalog. You can order one for free (or download it, if you’d rather) from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. Much, much more on seed-related things to come.

Wintry things like contemplating the below record album photos (front and back) and wondering if it is the genesis of my fascination with copiously coiffed facial hair.

The latter is like a Who’s Who of strange. Cocker spaniel? Yep. Snoopy? Roses? Clown? Cabbage Patch dolls? Check, check, check, check. French horn? Of course.

Please note that I propped the record on a giant pile of laundry to take this picture. Obviously my priorities are in order. Sorry, FCL.

Wintry things like laying curled up in bed with my nightly before-sleep ritual: checking the Weather Channel app on my iphone. Forecast for Christmas day in Tennessee? 30% chance of snow.

And of course, wintry things like watching White Christmas with Sprout (she may have inherited my love of musicals…and Christmas) and making gingerbread cookies with mom.

… and wintry ornament swaps and Christmas parties.

And just to think that winter doesn’t even officially begin until tomorrow.