Friday, September 9, 2011

Unexpected Summer Bounty


   So only two posts ago I was lamenting on the lack of sunshine and had pretty much given up on my sunny weather crops. Yet here I sit, sweltering ( for a Seattlite anything over 80 degrees is sweltering ) with  the forecast predicting a least a week more of this gloriously warm sunshine. And look! My warm weather crops are making a showing! The lemon cucumbers that Husband planted with great faith and excitement and I kind of just shrugged at are producing like gang busters. As is the "Matt's Wild Cherry" cherry tomato that we got as a start from Rents Due Ranch.
   I don't remember if I mentioned it but earlier in the season our green beans did, simply put, pitiful. So in frustration I ripped them all out and replanted later than could really be called viable.  So it was with great surprise and delight that I walked out to discover a few fully grown green beans! woot woot! Now I can make my very favoritest simply summer salad. Just cut up a few cukes, put in a handful or so of tomatoes, snap some green beans and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic et voila! Sometimes I add feta to beef it up a bit for a nice lunch.

   Also unexpected was our beets which were looking very wimpy and then today all of a sudden boom, they exploded! So I get to make another favorite summer salad. Steamed beets with goat cheese, and roasted pecans drizzled with balsamic. At Tutta Bella Pizzeria they make a similar salad but with pistachios which contrast so prettily with the red beets.

   While the sun may be shining I can't shake the feeling that this is the last hoorah for warmth and fall is still looming around the corner. Geez what a pessimist! That feeling is sparking my wanderlust though. So last weekend Husband and I packed up the car and the dog and headed out for adventures on Vashon/Maury Island. As we live in the south end of Seattle it is no biggy to catch the ferry in West Seattle over to the idyllic Vashon. We didn't have specific plans and we drove for the pleasure of exploring and discovered plenty of pretty tiny public beaches, meandering roads that were impossible to get lost on and a few specific gems. we stopped at a very cool nursery and garden by the name of Dig. 

   The selection was a bit dry this late in the season but the ideas! Superb! They had re purposed a bunch of old culverts into various things like this awesome dog castle. They had planted some kind of moss on the inside so this very sweet doggy had a nice place to lay down. 

   A fantastic fountain, again using pieces of culvert. This has inspired Husband and I to decide that we NEED a water feature.


We then found the Point Robinson Lighthouse and park. Ruby was free to run around on the beach and zip around on the driftwood and swim in the Sound.  It was so nice to sit in the sun and look at Mt. Rainier in the distance and feel lucky and grateful for the beautiful place that we live in.

   So fueled with new ideas and inspirations and deliciously tired from playing in the sunshine we boarded the ferry home very happy indeed.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Field trip!: Newport Beach, So Cal

   Husband and I just got back to the Great Northwest from a family reunion in Newport Beach, California. We had a wonderful time swimming in the ocean ( aka being tossed like a dryer sheet by the surf  ) visiting with family and enjoying the oh so sunny yet mild climate. Between naps and meals and planned activity  we found time to stroll the streets and take in the swanky beach-ness that is Newport. 

    Bougainvillea, the plant that can single handedly conjure memories of warmth and sunshine and bird calls in a courtyard. 

   This lovely entrance had two gas lamps flanking an iron gate that led into a grotto like entrance. I couldn't help wondering who got to live here?

A gate belonging to the same house.

   This window with it's reflection of palms trees, perfectly trimmed roses and opulent petunias sums it up, wealth, leisure, class with a touch ( just a touch now ) of simplicity. 

   Among all the perfection however, there were a few refreshing standout homes of rich people looking for something a little bit different and having the means to indulge their whims. I loved this front gate and swooping wall, even if the spikes on top of every turret said "keep out."

   And then there were the homes of folks who have lived in Newport since forever. This humble place had years worth of accumulated beach finds and tacky chachki in it's tiny yard surrounded by giant mansions. I was instantly charmed and relieved.

   But what really really got me was all the beautiful plants! Things that I have no hope of growing in my yard. I had plant lust bad. Everywhere I looked where these giant echevaria that made me practically squeal with delight! They seemed to come in all different colors from deep burgundy to sherbet variegation of pink, blue and lemon yellow. 

   Husband found this great front yard planting on one of his early morning rambles and led me and my Mom on a pilgrimage after coffee one day. See the burgundy smaller echevarria? It's paired nicely with a small blooming barrel cactus and some lovely blue succulents.

   Same planting, great spiky palm type thing and a different variety of blue purple echevarria that had great yellow pinky blooms. 

More echevarria.


And More! I told you I had plant lust didn't I?

I have no idea what this is but I loved the almost cone like blossoms ( ? ) and the swirly leaves.

   While I was definitely obsessed with echevarria I did notice other things too, like great textures. This privacy wall separating the sidewalk from the front entrance of a modern beach mansion looked like someone had taken a slice of beach and placed it so you could see the strata of a hundred years worth of tides. 

   Or the myriad of textures in the bark of different varieties of eucalyptus.

   This giant at the back of the Newport Public Library looks ancient but is actually only 50 to 30 years old. My Mom, who grew up in Southern California, told me settlers planted eucalyptus as fast growing drought tolerant wind breaks, but something about being in the Northern Hemisphere ( they are native to Australia ) made them twist like the beast you see up top. 

   So, if I had a buh-jillion dollars I could buy this bay side empty lot and build a tropical paradise from scratch to vacation in. Yet, I do not have that kind of money so I will just have to enjoy looking and take inspiration from the gardeners who do such a great job tending to their employers lots. Thanks guys!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Garden Update: Rain.

   Welcome to Jul-october! So far this summer has been one of the coolest and rainiest here in Seattle that I can remember ( although 1999 will live in my memory as the worst. I can remember thinking " Maybe July will be better, then, maybe august, and then, maybe September will be awesome?" But no, summer never came ). OK, ok, so we've had a week of nice weather here at the end of July, but there are mushrooms growing in my lawn for pity's sake. MUSHROOMS! Plus, two years ago this week, Husband and I closed on our house and were frantically painting before we had to be out of our rental and it was 100+ degrees! Come on 2011, what's up?
   Anyway enough ranting, the cool rainy temp has been a blessing to the cool weather crops and all the perennials I transplanted this spring.  

   Part of the bumper crop of lettuce Husband harvested and is determined to eat all of. Bless his heart. I have just chocked it up to a lesson learned not to plant so much and would be happy to feed what I can't possibly eat to the chickens, but not him.

   This is the jasmine I planted in a pot just outside our front door. It has the most delicious almost tropical smell that helps make up for low cloud cover.

   No, this is not rhubarb. This is ruby red Swiss Chard that has grown monstrous, and it is glorious. Our greens this year are so tall and robust that they have created a mini forest in our garden. 

   Gorgeous collards. Soon I will have to do a post about all the delicious things we have been making to try and keep up with our greens, which have yet to bolt and are still producing huge leaves.

Dino Kale ( aka Tuscan kale, Lacinato kale, or Black kale ) to the right, and Red Russian kale on the left.

   Our potato bin exploded!

The "Canada" variety of rhubarb that I planted this year was just a couple of nubbins and now is exceeding my expectations for growth.

   The raspberries that I transplanted to the Pie Patch from where they were sneaking into our yard from the neighbors are taking hold and producing some really nice big robust stems and foliage. I think we might even get a few berries later in the season.

   Chicken update! Polly and Pickles are growing up and to our surprise Pickles is a rooster. There must have been some mix up at the Farm Co-op because we had thought we were getting a Black Sexlink pullet. I know that determining the sex of a chick is not an exact science, but Sexlinks are a breed where one can determine the sex at birth because of the feather coloration. But... I don't believe they gave us a Black Sexlink at all. I think Pickles is an Australorp. Google image the two breeds of rooster and Pickles fits the bill for a big beautiful Australorp rooster. sigh. Urban farmer drama!

   Finally, here is one of the only warm weather plants that is doing any good. A Lemon Cucumber vine from seeds that Husband brought back from the Organicology conference in Portland earlier this year. I am trellising them up some curly willow given to me by my wonderful neighbor Grace and they look super neat climbing up the twisting branches. Here's to hoping that the weather will turn fabulously hot and we will get some fruit off this baby! Keep your fingers crossed!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Sooo fine...

    So my Mom gave me a big ole basket of fresh raspberries from her garden the other day and I had a few left over from a pint that Husband brought home from work. I felt a bit overwhelmed but then asked myself, can there be such a thing as too many raspberries? Never! Especially if you are into making your own...ICE CREAM!!! Which I am.
   It all started when we received an ice cream maker attachment for our Kitchenaid as a wedding present (  thank you mystery gift giver, there was no tag on your gift but we love it!!! ). Since then I have been making ice cream on a semi-regular basis. I have made pumpkin, strawberry molasses, ginger lemon, and just recently made an amazing roasted apricot sorbet.
   My favorite so far has been the pumpkin, the custard base of the ice cream pairs perfectly with the roasted pumpkin and spices. I got the recipe from David Lebovitz's lovely blog The Sweet Life @ He is not only a lucky human being ( living in Paris blogging about delicious food ) but somewhat of a ice cream guru. I have not checked out his book The Perfect Scoop, but I did run across this nifty gadget sanctioned by him at
                     Ice Cream Recipe: Create Your Own - Fine Cooking Recipe Maker
   The gadget has it's limitations but it is a good way to start inventing your own flavors and after working with it a couple of times I am starting to see what the basics of making ice cream are and how to move beyond the ingredients listed. Next flavor: Honey! Maybe with a little cardamom? We shall see.
   Anyway Husband and I went over to see our food lovin and sharing friends Annie and Blain and their sweet new addition Ferne Adele. We brought the raspberry ice cream to share and had a lovely evening holding a darling baby and eating wonderful homemade goodies. The sweet life indeed.

Thursday, June 30, 2011


   You could say the previous post was foreshadowing, or maybe it was meant to bee (sorry couldn't help myself). We have bee's again. If you remember we got bee's last year when our father in law saved a hive  from an overpass that was being torn down. Unfortunately those bees didn't survive the winter. So our hive was rebuilt, this time with more insulation. We weren't able to purchase bees so we have been hoping to "bait" a swarm to move in to our empty hive. We did this by hanging old honey comb in the hive and hoping. Well, the other day while out on our nightly walk with the dog we noticed a swarm of activity in one of our neighbors yards. Our neighbor was there along side a member of the bee keeping association collecting not one swarm but two. The neighbor already has 4 hives, the city limit, and the other bee keeper only had room for one swarm. So, lucky for us we could have the other swarm.

   We are rookies at bee keeping, so we were super grateful for our neighbor Rick whose swarm this was to come and help us load the swarm into our hive. With all the bees flying around and such it was difficult for us to really see what was going on. As it turned out, in the swarm Rick brought us there were actually two Queens. The picture above is of an un-mated queen ( the big ole bee on the top ) and one of her attendants ( small bee in corner ). She needed her own hive so we called up father in law Michael and he came down to pick her up. 

   Meanwhile, Rick and Husband placed the box with our swarm on top of our top bar hive. This was a new experience for both Rick and ourselves. We had never done this process at all and Rick had never worked with a top bar style hive. Nonetheless it was pretty strait forward.  They slid the bottom of the box out and then lifted up the box to see how many of the bees had fallen into the hive.

   Then, seeing a bunch of bees still on the top of the box, Rick set it down again and gave it a good WHACK and the rest of the bees fell into the hive. Then he gently brushed the last few stragglers into the hive and we all backed away to watch the results. 

   Rick sprayed the bees with a sugar water mixture to keep them happy and distracted by cleaning themselves off and eating the sugar water and put a couple of drops of lemongrass oil in to the hive to calm the bees and freshen up the place. We also put a bowl of sugar water near the hive so that the bees would have something to eat while they spend the next couple of days situating themselves and starting to build more comb.

Now, a couple of days later the bees are busy doing their thing. We have looked in on them a couple of times and they are building comb like crazy! We are so lucky to have met our neighbor Rick and we gave him a dozen fresh eggs and a bunch of homebrew to sample. Having the bees makes our garden seem complete again. Looking at the empty hive was a bit sad and to see it bursting with activity is amazing and somehow fullfiling.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ooh yeah, that's the stuff...

The bee emerging
from deep within the peony
departs reluctantly


Friday, June 10, 2011

Coming along nicely

   One of the most fantastic things about a garden this time of year is watching the near hourly growth of all the plants. For me, it is so rewarding to see all the hard work of the previous fall, winter and spring coming to fruition. It is a time for me to slow down and let nature take over and do her thing.

   Our raised beds are looking good. Here is a shot of the most luxurious of the five with Russian Red Kale, Dino Kale, Broccoli and Tatsoi which was really prolific and is already bolting. 

    Our lettuce is OUT OF CONTROL! I have learned that I do not need to plant quite so much at once although it does look impressive, doesn't it? Along side the lettuce are Chard, Collard greens and Walla Walla onions.

    A couple of weeks ago Kevin drilled a ton of holes into the bottom of a metal trough we are now using as our potato bin. We planted Yellow Finn potatoes just a couple of weeks ago and now every time the greens get a little bit high we are alternately covering them with compost and a kind of sawdusty mix from our compost pile. Soon we will have the trough filled with dirt to the rim and then in the fall the whole thing (hopefully) will be brimming with potatoes. Mmmmm, I can just taste them now.

   This crazy beauty is one of the Alium Shuberti that I planted last fall. I first fell in love with these giant firework-like alium when I ran across some growing on the biodynamic flower farm where I picked the flowers for my Mother and Stepfather's wedding six or seven years ago. I ended up using them in a center piece and ever since I have needed to put them in my garden. They are just so unbelievably fantasticle! Plus they dry really well, my dear friend Annie Cooper had the brilliant idea of hanging one upside down in her kitchen and it looks like a crazy mid-century design light fixture.

   I planted some other alium which I can't remember the name of but look super cool grouped together. I am disappointed by the foliage of these alium though. Very wimpy. I think I need to plant some bushy things around their base so that next year the flowers can poke up through the leaves of the other plants.  I think that will look so lush and whimsical! 

   We are also nearly done with the fence project. All that's left is to put the cross pieces on the top of the arbor so our hops can have some support when they get crazy big.  We scrounged a ton of reed screen from the alleyway behind the Hanger Cafe in our neighborhood. It's amazing the stuff we find in the alleys while we are walking Ruby, in a way she has ended up saving us money! Anyway, the reeds probably aren't the final solution but they will do for a couple of years and in the meantime we don't have to deal with deciding what we want to do. The boards for the gate we also scrounged from the alley and I made Husband drill cute holes in each picket. 


   To keep the chickens in the back yard we also needed a fence on the other side of the house. We had a bunch of pear tree prunings from the spring and some branches from other various tree trimming projects so I decided to make a twine and twig fence and gate. Preety rustic but it gets the job done. I still have to figure out how to get hinges onto it though. Also, I want to get some clematis to grow up over the archway. 

   Polly and Pickles are no longer babies although we still refer to them as "the little peepers." We have finally integrated them with the older girls and so far everyone is getting along peacefully. Pickles likes to push the boundaries of older hens patience but they put her in her place pretty quickly. Ruby is doing good too! She loves to bark at anything that passes by our front fence and chase any squirrel or small bird that comes in our yard, which will come in handy once our squash plants get fruit.

   The bed in the front of the house looks great too. I still want it to be fuller and more luxurious but I will just have to be patient and keep fertilizing. Some of the plants in here I have been carting around with me for years. From one rental to the other, I just couldn't leave them behind! I promised them that when we bought this house it would be the last time they would have to move, and I think they're happy.

     The chickens decided that hostas are one of their favorite snacks and this one was doomed to end up as chicken poop. I moved it to the front bed and it fits in well so I suppose it all worked out for the best. Yup, it's all coming along quite nicely, if I do say so myself.