Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Harvest: Kid Edition

It's blackberry season!  Our new house is right on the Shoreline Interurban trail, aka the blackberry farm, so we have our own personal blackberry patch that we have access to out our back gate.  It's pretty sweet.  So we picked some and made something special.  I'll tell you about it later.

This week I had a little help with the harvest from my little 4-year-old friend next door.  She and her brothers are always pretty bored and loiter in their front yard, looking for someone or something to play with.  Oftentimes that someone is Shawn or me.  They always say hi to us, and on some weekends, will ask of they can come over.  They really like helping us in the yard and were heavily involved in the construction of the chicken coop, as well as the setup of the garden beds.  They can be kind of annoying, but considering we have made or are making a living off of working with children, having them around is kinda normal for us.

Since they helped with the planting of much of my garden, it is only fitting to allow them to help with the harvest.

But first let me tell you a bit about these kids.  I don't think they have very good eating habits, as evidenced by their being rather overweight.  I won't go into speculating why this is, but being from a low income family would be my first guess.  When we were planting the garden, they had no idea what a zucchini was.  They also claimed that they had never eaten a raspberry before, when we let them have some from our sad little patch.  They don't recognize green tomatoes as tomatoes, and can't identify cucumbers, green beans, or lettuce.

As urban living gets more and more distanced from farms and where our food comes from, children are having a harder time understanding that food is grown in the ground and comes off of plants.  I remember one student a few years back say this: "Mom!  That person pulled a plant out of the ground and there was a CARROT attached to it!" Couple this with the high prices of fresh produce and you get kids like our neighbors.  Sad, but true.

When we moved into our house several months ago and we were first introduced to our new little friends, the environmental educator in me couldn't help but decide to take these youngsters under my wing and teach them a thing or two about food: where it comes from, how it gets to us, and how yummy the fresh stuff is.

So having the little girl over today as I planted some strawberries and blueberry bushes and picked this week's harvest was exactly in line with my secret goal.  First, I let her pull a bunch of the purple green beans.  I was surprised at how little she reacted to the color, and instantly took a bite of one when I encouraged her to.  At first I thought she didn't like it because she made a little face when she said "it's good" (with some hesitation,) but then gobbled up a whole handful with gusto.  Next we picked some cucumbers.  I ripped one apart and took a bite out of one half to show her it was safe and she finished off the other half.  I asked her which she liked better, the purple beans or the cucumber, and the cuke won that round.  I then topped the taste test off with a chocolate zucchini muffin which, naturally, she snarfed with no hesitation.

Her brother came over a bit later and was not enthused about the idea of eating a purple green bean, but I expected that since he's got a bit more attitude.  I think I'll focus my energy on one child for now, since today was such a success.

I have always gardened for me.  It's my therapy, and a great fun way to get some exercise and eat right.  But for the first time, my garden became something that benefited someone else.  Now who knows how much of our time spent together today will have an impact on my little friend.  It might be just a speck in her imaginative day to day life.  But I like to think that there is a small chance that it could become something more, something big.  And that little chance is worth every second and every purple green bean donated to a good cause.

So go outside and plant a garden, if not for you, but for a small little friend.  It might make a big impact.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

Holy hell these are delicious.

And they use up a bunch of zucchini.

I'll be making several batches of these over the next few weeks.

1 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cups grated zucchini
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, sift together all the dry ingredients (top half of the list).  An a separate larger bowl, mix together the wet ingredients, minus the zucchini.  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until combined, then add the zucchini.  This is when you would add the walnuts and chocolate chips if you want.  Pour into a greased muffin tin and bake for 20 minutes.  Now, it makes 12 muffins, but you may want to double the recipe since 12 of these muffins is not enough.

It's kinda more like chocolate cake.  But healthier... because it has vegetables in it.
I'mma go eat one now.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Pruning Raspberry Plants

Raspberry season is over.  So sad.  Unfortunately, what could have been an amazing raspberry season for us this year was interrupted and cut short because of the move.  We moved the plants during the most crucial stage, as the berries were ripening, so the berries themselves did not ripen fully and some of them were dry, small, and just plain sad.  The plants took awhile to establish, and a lot of it died off.  But, in the last several weeks, we've had a resurgence of the plants and have more growth.  No more berries, but now that the plants themselves have established, next year looks promising.

Every year, in order to maximize berry production and to give the live plant parts enough room, you have to prune the bushes.  It's really easy.  Here's what we started with:

Lots of dead stuff with green parts underneath.  Since raspberry bushes are not really bushes, and just a whole bunch of individual-looking sticks coming from the general same ground area, pruning is easy.  You just find your dead sticks, follow them down to about 12 inches from the ground and cut.  I think you can cut lower, but that's what I did this year.  You just need to make sure that the sticks you cut are the ones that fruited this year.  The ones that didn't fruit will next year so leave them alone.

That's it.  It took 3 minutes and looks way better.  See?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Harvest

Fancy Dragon Beans.

We've got a lot of beans and cucumbers to eat.  Not to mention all the zucchinis I got lyin' around...

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday Harvest

We got some good stuff this week.  The beans are both at peak production, and I got to harvest my garlic.  But I think I waited too long.  Harvesting time just stuck up on me, and before I knew it, the leaves were all brown.  The stuff I've read says that you should harvest before all the leaves turn brown.  So I got one bulb that has cracked open, so I'll have to use that one first since it won't keep.  I've also read here and there that the scapes (the tendrils and bulbs at the top) should be cut off, but I've also read that they can be left on, so I left 'em.  The garlic bulbs themselves are pretty small, but bigger than the original cloves I planted, so I'm happy with what I got.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pruning Tomatoes

Early in the spring, I decided that this would be the year of the tomato for me.  I've become more and more aware of the unhealthiness of canned tomatoes, (due to the BPA that gets leached into the tomatoes from the can,) so I really want to can my own that I can use year-round.

So I have 15 tomato plants in the garden.  And most of them are from the seeds I saved from last year.  Their sheer number is one of the main reasons it looks like a jungle in my backyard since they're growing so well and look so bushy.  But now that they all have little green guys on it and have a ton of flowers, their bushiness can be a detractor to tomato production.  I just recently learned that you can prune tomato plants to help with production.  The basic idea behind it is that if you take off some of the lower branches that have no flowers or fruit, the plant will send more of the sugars and energy that it creates through photosynthesis to the fruit instead of to useless branches and leaves.

Obviously you need most of the leaves to actually photosynthesize, but the hardiness of a tomato plant can handle some pruning.  I did do some research on how to prune plants but got a little overwhelmed with some of the websites I came across so decided to just use my own personal horticultural knowledge of understanding of how plants work and did it myself.

Basically, I just made sure to cut off branches that were down low or in the middle of the plant that got less sunlight than the rest of the plant.  I also made sure none of the branches I cut had any flowers or fruit.  I think I cut off 5-6 branches on each plant.  I probably could have cut off more, but decided to take it easy.  Hopefully this helps production.  Now that I'm thinking about it, I should have left one plant alone and weighed the fruit that came off of it and compared it to another plant to see the difference.  Maybe next year.  But this year, come on tomatoes!  And come on good weather!  Make my tomatoes red!

The red circles are where you could cut. I think I left the middle one on this particular plant.

The leftovers.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sunday Harvest 2012!

I know I know, I said I would do this last weekend.  But I need to ease myself into this whole Sunday Harvest thing again.  And, my harvests aren't going to be as good as they were last year, since my garden, though thriving, isn't in the best conditions to give me an interesting and diverse harvest.  But next year... you watch out next year, my garden's gonna kick your ass!!!

But getting back to the point, this is 2 weeks of harvests in one. (Not including some of the stuff that we harvested already and I failed to tell you all about.)

Last week we had a couple zucchini, some green onions, some carrots, the final bok choy (we had so much, we're kind of sick of it,) and a pumpucchini.  That's one of my pumpkin/zucchini hybrids.  I picked it just to see what it was like.  The ones I left on the plant are getting super big.

I also picked a volunteer catnip that has sprung up around my tomatoes.  The following is a montage of what happened after it entered the house:

It was entertaining.  It was gone quickly, Nikolai didn't puke it up, and the kitties were happy.

This week we got a couple handfuls of snow peas, more zucchinis, beets, and carrots.  I wish I had planted more beets.  There's nothing more satisfying than pulling root vegetables.

There.  Sunday Harvest 2012 has started.  Now to just keep up...
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