Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Getting Squashed

Though we're raging against it, this baby is kicking our asses. So much for the planned blog posts about sweet, sweet aji dulce peppers and well-deserved shout-outs to friends like E & J who have been helping us tidy up the garden before the winter cold settles in. Our time is at a premium right now, and Coltivi has suffered.

Before Li'l G was born, at least one person told me straight out that the craziness of two kids would make me give up cooking and we'd be surviving on pasta and chicken fingers. I seem to have taken that as a personal challenge. Today the baby was amenable enough to nap for a whole hour, so I started a batch of this tangy-sweet bread, made two kinds of baby food, and prepped two experimental dishes I'm making for dinner. This is not the most sensible use of my precious free time, I know, but it helps keep me (legally!) sane. Laundry? What laundry?

To get to the point, last night I summoned up a new dish that will have the honor of going into regular rotation round these parts. Last month I visited a local food consignment shop (such a cool idea), where I bought these adorable sweet dumpling squash that happened to be seriously delicious as well. They roast up so quickly in the oven, and the shop owner mentioned that if you go and fill the squash with good stuff, you could have a one-dish meal on your hands. So here's what I did, and it was a big hit. Sweet, salty, crunchy, creamy, tangy--this dish is greater than the sum. They went so fast I didn't even get to take photos.

Stuffed Sweet Dumpling Squash

3 sweet dumpling squash or small winter squash
3 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium red pepper, finely chopped
1 cup cheese, grated (I used a young goat gouda, but you could use parmesan or crumbled chevre)
¼ cup chopped parsley
salt, pepper, herbs de provence

Preheat oven to 400º. Cut squashes in half and scoop out the seeds, then rub with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place cut side down on a baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes or until the skin can be easily pierced with a fork. Remove from oven and cool.

Meanwhile, roughly cube the bread and whizz in the food processor to make breadcrumbs. Heat 2T olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, then toss the crumbs with the oil and cook until crispy, about 5 minutes. Remove the breadcrumbs from the pan and add the remaining 1T oil. Saute the onions until translucent, just a few minutes, then add the pepper and herbs and cook for another couple of minutes.

Turn on the broiler. Combine breadcrumbs with sautéed vegetables, cheese, and parsley, then spoon the filling into each squash half. Don’t be shy; mound it up as much as you like. Place the pan under the broiler, either on low or about 6 inches away from the flame, for about 3 minutes or until the cheese melts and the topping turns golden. Enjoy with some wild rice and wilted fall greens.

Serves about 4, fewer if you're really hungry.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Supa Dupa Dry

This jar holds what used to be ten pounds of San Marzano tomatoes. I included the fresh one for scale. You may be asking, How does one transform ten pounds of tomatoes to fit into a quart-size jar? Answer: Two days of cooking. Although, to be fair, it's mostly hands-off time spent drying the tomatoes in a very low oven. I took the extra step of blanching and peeling the tomatoes, which isn't strictly necessary.

All I can say is that this toil had better be worth it. I've never been a huge fan of sun-dried (or oven-dried, if you will) tomatoes, though I like them well enough. But if I have these at my disposal through the cold months I may be more likely to use them in salads and soups, either in their current state, soaked in oil, in dressings, or reconstituted.

P.S. Sorry if the Missy Elliott reference was lost on anyone. I'd like to see a Venn diagram of the intersection between gardeners, gourmands, and fans of old-school rap.

Little Miss Green

Voilà! Verdurette de l’été. I made mine with sweet summer onions, red bell pepper, carrots, parsley, and basil, but you can use whatever veggies and herbs you like best or have on hand in your kitchen. I plan to use it like I would sofrito or bouillon, mixing a spoonful into soups, dips, eggs, rice, or beans.

Side note: Nico has come to the conclusion that a dish is only homemade if we made it using ingredients we grew ourselves. Talk about a sophisticated palate! I'm afraid we're setting this kid up for some unrealistic expectations. I won't even mention his love of smoked monkfish and sour mustard greens.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Doing the Can-Can

Last weekend I took a terrific food preservation class that gave me the confidence I need to forge ahead with my canning ideas. In the past I've canned a little salsa and jam, but I've always been anxious that the end result won't be safe or just plain won't taste good. I always felt like I was doing it in the dark, fudging things without the right techniques and equipment. Even though I own a few books on canning, I didn't know enough about the science behind food preservation to riff on some of the more traditional recipes and make them my own. I want this food to end up being something I'll actually want to eat in February. I can only eat so many dilly beans. Am I risking botulism if I don't refrigerate this tomato confit? (Perhaps.) Am I screwing up the pH of these marinated peppers by adding extra garlic? (No.)

This year we have enough extra produce that it would be a big waste not to put some of it up. It's also fun to play with all the fruits and veggies coming in. My day with Leda Meredith at Genesis Farm was eye-opening on all counts. Meredith is committed to seasonal, sustainable food, but she also wants it to taste good, and she talks about less well known techniques for preserving food like salting, drying, and lactic fermentation, which I am very curious about.

So far I've process a gallon of tomatoes, dried 10 pounds of the same, put hot peppers in vinegar, and made pickles using lactic fermentation. In the hopper I've got some jam made from peaches acquired through bartering with our farmer neighbors (am I a pioneer superhero or what?) and a batch of verdurette, which is basically vegetable bouillon and, according to Meredith, keeps basically forever.

The adventure continues!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cherry Cherry

I laughed long and hard at Mark's love for ground cherries, but now I will confess in front of blog and everyone that I have been won over by their wiles. Sweet, sharp, and crisp--I don't understand why more people don't cultivate and eat these. They look like a tomatillo, with a smooth golden fruit inside a lantern-shaped husk, and they're native to North America. It's fun and addictive to unwrap and eat them, one by one. And they were sure easy for us to grow this year. Why don't they sell these at the supermarket, or even at the farmers' market?

UPDATE: I'm gonna go ahead and label this mild interest in our ground cherries an official hubbub. Here's what they look like inside the husk.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Suffice it to say we've got a glut of yellow summer squash over here. Actually, no, that won't suffice. We've done the sweet, buttery-yellow fruits sauteed, shredded, grilled, in pasta, in soup, in chocolate cake, with even more squash growing up along the garden fence and taunting us from on high. I'm snacking on a squash-basil muffin as I type this. Even the local food pantry turned down our offer to donate some squash--seriously. After Mark's band played last Saturday I was peddling them in the streets of Hoboken and leaving them on top of friends' cars.

And I haven't even mentioned the basil: quadruple batches of pesto, quarts of basil-lime syrup for tasty drinks both alcoholic and non, marinara sauce, salads, and stir fries. From just two plants of Genovese basil. That doesn't even include the Thai and holy basil plants. Geez.

We just started digging potatoes today--20 pounds' worth from just four of our many, many plants. The bounty continues...which is incredibly awesome, but it's starting to seem strangely ominous as well.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Frittering Away

Crispy, melty, savory success. I filled these squash blossoms with a blend of ricotta, mozzarella, and pecorino romano cheeses and some anchovies, garlic, and oregano, then dipped them in seasoned flour and a beaten egg and deep-fried. Deliciousness.

Monday, July 5, 2010

In Blossom

The photo above is a hot mess, sure, but it illustrates tonight's promising dinner. For a long time I've wanted to cook with squash blossoms, but they're virtually impossible to find at the store, and every year we've grown squash I've been too anxious about our yield to interfere with reproduction and sacrifice any potential squash fruits. Suffice it to say that shouldn't be a problem this year, with dozens of blooms and fruits everywhere and leaves as big as the baby trying to snuff out the poor melons.

In Rome we enjoyed delicious fried blossoms stuffed with cheese at a side-street trattoria, and I'll be riffing on that tonight by filling our sweet-smelling flowers with ricotta, romano, anchovies, and basil before battering and pan-frying them.

Most of that basil became pesto within an hour of being snipped, and the rest will be used for my favorite basil beverage. There will also be juicy local peaches with elderflower and verbena syrup for dessert. The abundance of produce is still a novelty this early in the season, and I'm all a-twitter with recipes. Wonder what my level of enthusiasm will be at the end of August with peppers and tomatoes covering every flat surface in our house. I think I'll still be pretty stoked.

Such a tease, these baby Nyagous are--the tomato equivalent of jailbait.

Friday, July 2, 2010


Nico and I harvested about 200 big, beautiful shallots today. Hot damn! I must calculate what the cost would be if we bought that amount at the grocery store. Not sure how to factor in the hours of backbreaking labor and the value of Mark's sanity.

Now I just need to learn how to braid them after they've cured.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Revolution Will Be Delicious

It doesn't get any better than this: Food grown and prepared within walking distance of our house by passionate, committed growers and an incredibly talented chef. Today, the local master of high-low cuisine, Michael Christiansen of HotBox Food Truck, brought his operation to Mini Mac Farm, our source for the freshest and yummiest eggs and chicken around. He prepared a lunch of classed-up street food using ingredients grown on the farm: pork tacos with homemade fixings, lobster and asparagus salad on scallion flatbread, and rigatoni carbonara. We had one of everything with some fresh brewed lemon-mint iced tea and ate it on the grass in the shade within earshot of a gaggle of Rhode Island Reds while Mark coveted the black-and-white goats nearby.

We lucked out, because the food was sold out by 1pm. And it looks like some well-deserved attention is headed their way, since a photographer from NJ Monthly was present, jumping on the national food-truck trend. We can only hope they team up again soon.

When we moved out to the country, this was exactly the kind of community we envisioned, but we didn't imagine it would be this delicious, or this close. Next time I'll bring my camera.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Green with Envy

You know how some annoying treehuggers go on and on about how home-grown and organic food tastes so much better than what the rest of us chumps can buy at the supermarket? Well, I'm here to break the news that yes, it does.

In other words, the payoff has begun! Last night was the first time this season that Mark explained to me the odd sensation of not feeling panicked about the garden. The steep incline of toil is beginning to level out, and the garden is already starting to pay out in pounds of snap peas and picture-perfect heads of broccoli.

Smugness aside, there's some science behind the fact that there's no substitute for a freshly picked pea. It simply has no shelf life because the sugars start to convert to starch immediately after picking. And those incredibly sweet, juicy strawberries we've been picking at Genesis Farm wouldn't even make it to the grocery store. Half of mine are a bloody pulp by the time I drive home and put them in a bowl.

The volume of peas we have is unbelievable, even though we didn't get a chance to trellis them, which Mark was afraid would be disastrous. We haven't had any animals noshing on our goods besides flea beetles, and even they seem to be under control thanks to some mysterious beneficial insect. The deer have eaten a few pea shoots that latched onto the fence, but we aren't plagued by rabbits or groundhogs even though we still haven't had the opportunity to bury the extra bit of chicken wire around the perimeter. Which means we're picking a huge bowlful of peas every couple of days, and still we can't keep up. An awesome problem to have, for sure.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Smells Like Victory

Today's accomplishments: 75 tomatoes planted, weeded, and mulched, followed by Marcella Hazan's escarole torta and braised carrots--the last of the winter CSA share, spring leaves and garlic greens from this week's Genesis share, and a stake (har har) in the food we hope to enjoy this summer and fall.

Even better, we're still cooking and gardening four weeks into this trippy two-child odyssey. Smells like victory to me.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Family muck-around time in the garden. Nico gets some tips on mulching from the master.

Look how far we've come! Hard to believe this was a thistle-ridden wasteland just a few short weeks ago.

In the end we couldn't bear to uproot the dozens of peonies strewn around the garden. They got a reprieve until next year. Same goes for the mountain of mint.

Neverending broccoli.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Another Kind of Sprout

Yes, it’s been a while, but that’s because we’ve been busy growing this sprout:

She arrived on 5/7. But don't fret; Mark hasn’t been neglecting the garden by any means.

The broccoli went out the second week of April, but could have gone outside earlier. It’s happy and thriving, but it would be bigger now if we had been a little more ambitious.

The potatoes are positively exuberant. We planted La Ratte fingerlings and yellow-fleshed Carola; both shot out of the ground in a few days and haven’t looked back. They’ve been mulched with hay to keep them moist on these hot days we’ve been having.

Mark was intent on putting a trellis up for the two kinds of peas—Sugar Snap and Green Arrow shelling peas—but now we’re thinking it may not be strictly necessary, and goodness knows there are a dozen other things demanding his time right now. They seem to be doing just fine cozied up to the deer fence.

Beans: Planted them 5/16 and they’re going crazy; seems like our timing was dead on. We’ve got Jacob’s Cattle and Tiger’s Eye shell beans for soup or for drying, as well as Garden of Eden pole beans.

Even the melons and squash sprang up in just a few days. The black plastic we lay down will warm the soil and prevent weeds, and we may even put up some row covers for maximum TLC. They love the heat, and the weather has been more than cooperative lately with these warm days interspersed with cool, rainy ones.

Still, we’re waiting until next weekend to put out the tomatoes, and even another week after that to put the peppers and eggplant in the ground. However, we’re going to give them a break from the grow lights and let them sunbathe during the daytime this week. Since someone left our pepper seedlings balanced precariously and they fell over (even though most of them recovered just fine), someone decided to order a truckload of exotic peppers from Cross Country Nurseries, an awesome farm he discovered in central Jersey, and we just picked them up yesterday. We definitely need to go back and pick those folks’ brains about their forward-thinking pest control techniques and fascinating array of pepper and basil varieties.

Weeding has become the surprising new joy of Mark’s life. He’ll disappear for an hour after dinner to hack at the earth with the cobra head tool and annihilate stealthy thistle taproots. The thistles will be the bane of our existence for at least the next couple of years, if not longer. Fortunately, this is my husband’s idea of a good time. So sad, and yet so serendipitously practical.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Feeling Blue

Bordering our vegetable garden are different kinds of perennials--along the long western side are blueberries, rhubarb, and asparagus. Thanks to my inability to properly read instructions, I planted the asparagus crowns sideways instead of upright, so they took their sweet time sending up shoots. Over a month later a few are finally appearing, so maybe I didn't ruin everything.

Let's contrast my slapdash approach with how Mark handled the blueberries. We have 8 plants total: 6 Bluecrop and 2 Jersey, interspersed with lovely rhubarb that our parents were generous enough to donate. To get these babies in the ground, Mark dug each blueberry bush a hole 20" deep and 24" across, then filled each with a precise mixture: 3 gallons of peat, 1 gallon of forest humus dug from the woods, 1 gallon compost, 2 cups aluminum sulfate, and 1 cup bone meal. To this he added back all the dirt from the hole (minus the large, plentiful, dang-blasted rocks) and planted the twigs that will hopefully become the source of tasty pies and jams for many years to come. So far they've been quite accommodating, growing quickly and happily with only some straw mulch and the protection of a tomato cage wrapped in a row cover to keep the deer out until the fencing goes up this weekend.

This early success is some comfort, because the eggplants and peppers we've started have decided to be sickly and finicky for no apparent reason. Is it the new growing cube system we've implemented this year? Something they don't like about the new house--a hex from the previous owner, perhaps? But then again, where would we be without something to hover over obsessively?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Group Effort

Tonight the three of us planted tomato seeds--Nyagous, Isis Candy, San Marzano, Gold Medal, and Pink Ponderosa. It was a true group effort, with Nico carefully placing one seed in each tiny soil block. We've come a long way since last year when his "help" was more of a liability than anything else.

We're also hoping the soil block method will be more efficient than past trials. The seedlings that sprout will be transferred to larger blocks, then eventually to the garden or to small pots if they're for giving. Anybody wanna call dibs?

Monday, March 22, 2010


This is how the plot looked on Thursday morning when Mark started spreading all that composted horse poop. My dad even found a horseshoe--a good omen! For a perspective on our insanity, that's the previous owner's garden in the center. Click through for panoramic view.

This is how it looks this morning after about 30 man-hours of working the soil. It may not be an impressive feat of agricultural engineering quite yet, but to us it's a gorgeous, blank, workable canvas. You can see the blueberries at the bottom, and the asparagus and garlic are off-camera to the right.

The alliums and broccoli are still partying it up under their disco lights.

Spring offers us this gorgeous little gem of a pomegranate flower to show us it's serious about its intentions. Still haven't found any of those snowdrops or crocus that everyone else seems to be chirping about.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Making Strides

I'm so exhausted I can barely type this, and I'm not even the one who did the lion's share of the work. Mark spent the last four days spreading 20 cubic yards of mushroom soil on our 50x75' garden plot, then tilling the whole thing using a beast of a tiller and digging holes for 6 blueberry bushes and a trench for 20 asparagus crowns. Mad props to my dad for putting in some serious man-hours yesterday. We were hoping to get the peas planted as well, but as it was we were out there until dusk tonight. I can't believe how the area has been transformed.

Every day it seems like a new box shows up on the doorstep--golden raspberries, fruit trees, blueberries, asparagus. All of a sudden our ambitious gardening plan is becoming real. It seems too good to be true, and in fact it is for Mark, who is his own worst critic.

The weather couldn't have been more cooperative, in the 70s every day and the 40s or 50s at night, practically unheard of for March in New Jersey. At the moment I can even hear a few confused, early-rising peepers in the pond across the road. The forecast is calling for a couple cooler days of rain ahead, which is just dandy for those baby blueberries and will create prime planting conditions for the peas. Garlic is up, albeit just tiny sprouts, but we're relieved since we were worried that we had planted too late for any decent result.

Before and after photos to come after we rise from the dead tomorrow.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Leek Mania

The first batch of seed starter is mixed up, the leeks are planted, and now one week later we've got about 10 seedlings going. The first alpha-sprouts appeared last Friday just five days after planting (beating last year's 7 day best). We've got the soil blocks directly on the heat mat which probably accounts for the accelerated germination. Now the trick will be to remove the heat mat without destroying the integrity of the soil blocks. The soil mix recipe is derived from Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Grower (also advocated by Johnny's):

Standard Blocking Mix

3 Buckets Brown Peat (30 Parts)
1/2 C Lime (1/8)


2 Buckets Course Sand (20)
1 C Blood Meal (1/4)
1 C Rock Phosphate (1/4)
1 C Greensand (1/4)


1 Bucket Soil (10)
2 Buckets Compost (20)

Wet 1 part water to 3 parts mix

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Here is the exhaustive, painstakingly vetted garden list for 2010. In addition to these, we'll also be planting as many herbs and wildflowers as humanly possible. And don't forget our blueberry bushes, golden raspberry canes, asparagus crowns, and hazelnut, cherry, and apricot trees. Seriously, am I going to have to plant all of this crap myself? [Kate: Most likely, since I will be massively pregnant.]
  • BASIL, Thai Queenette - This one seemed to do well last year.
  • BASIL, Holy - Trying out seeds from Baker Creek this year. I also brought some seeds back from a bunch of basil we used in my Thai cooking class, we'll give em a whirl.
  • BASIL, Genovese - The old standby. We get a few seedlings from Well-Sweep Herb Farm every year.
  • BEANS (BUSH), Tiger's Eye - We never got to plant these last year because of our move. Here we go again...
  • BEANS (BUSH), Jacob's Cattle - We ordered a whole lotta beans from Fedco, looking forward to trying them out.
  • BEANS (POLE), Garden Of Eden - More unplanted holdovers from last year.
  • BROCCOLI, Blue Wind - We had good results last year with this variety so we're going to give it another go.
  • CARROTS, Muscade - We planted some last year but never got to harvest them.
  • EGGPLANT, Turkish Orange - This will be a new variety for us. These are small eggplants that are best harvested prior to turning orange.
  • EGGPLANT, Ma Waeng - I'm excited about this one. These eggplants are pea-sized and impossible to find even at the Asian market. They're good in lots of SE Asian dishes and freeze well.
  • GROUND CHERRY, Aunt Molly's - This is another one I've been meaning to try for the last couple of years. I finally overcame Kate's inexplicable lack of enthusiasm.
  • GREENS, Siamese Dragon - This is a Baker Creek mix of Asian greens that we've had since last year.
  • LEEK, Bleu de Solaise - This leek showed great promise last year, although we didn't get to try it.
  • LETTUCE, Val D'Orges - We actually got to harvest this one last season, a nice butterhead for my little butterhead.
  • LETTUCE, Arugula - Can't get enough of this stuff!
  • MELON, Charentais - One of our biggest goals this year is to finally grow some decent melons. We've never had enough sun before to do it. Charantais is a nice classic European musk melon.
  • MELON, Sun Jewel - This is a Johnny's hybrid type that also looks like a winner. It's a banana-shaped Asian style. Might as well try two different varieties and compare the results.
  • ONION, Walla Walla - The best sweet onions around. We couldn't find seed last year and went with transplants instead. We've tracked the seeds down this time, so look out.
  • ONION, New York Early - This looks like a good keeper onion, which we never seem to have enough of.
  • PARSLEY, Flat Leaf - Another yearly Well-Sweep purchase.
  • PEAS (POLE), Sugar Snap - Always a favorite. Nothing beats fresh-picked snap peas, and this is the best variety we've found.
  • PEAS (POLE), Green Arrow -We're also looking forward to having some fresh shell peas this year--another delicacy that can't be found at the grocery store.
  • PEPPERS, Aji Dulce - Arguably Kate's favorite peppers, these taste like habaneros but have virtually no heat. For big babies.
  • PEPPERS, Bird's Eye - These are the tiny red peppers ubiquitous in Thai cuisine. Hot but not brutal, fruity and versatile.
  • PEPPERS, Cascabel - We grew these a couple of years ago, and they were quite unique. Very prolific and easily stored. I couldn't find the seeds in any of the six (yes, six) catalogs we ordered from so i'm going to try to use seeds from a package of dried peppers from Penzey's.
  • PEPPERS, Golden Treasure - A thin-walled, orange sweet frying pepper.
  • PEPPERS, King Of The North - Thick-walled and sweet, this is one of the shortest season bell peppers available.
  • PEPPERS, Lemon - An intensely fruity, moderately spicy South American variety, this is an old favorite originally obtained from Burpee four years ago. The seeds we're using are the longest-running strain of any seeds we've saved.
  • PEPPERS, Thai Burapa - Standard pepper used in red Thai curry paste (in dried form). Easy to dry but quite useful fresh, either green or red, in all sorts of Asian dishes.
  • POTATO, La Ratte - Fingerling variety, demanded by Kate. [Kate: You could have described them as creamy-fleshed, buttery, versatile, and used by generations of French chefs.]
  • POTATO, Carola - Toted as an all-around outstanding potato. We ordered all of our potatoes from Fedco this year.
  • SCALLION, Evergreen Hardy White - Another indispensable allium. 'Nuff said.
  • SHALLOT, Ambition - We blow through shallots like water, often substituting them for onions. Like scallions, we really can't get enough of them. You could say, we're feeling more AMBITIOUS than ever! HAHAHA [Kate: Fortunately, I would never say that.]
  • SQUASH (SUMMER), Lemon - This Baker Creek yellow summer squash looks intriguing and has some rave reviews, not to mention a supposed compact habit. A nice alternative to zucchini.
  • SQUASH (WINTER), Golden Delicious - Another Baker Creek selection, this squash is alleged to rival the buttercup in pure awesomeness.
  • SUNFLOWER, Irish Eyes - This will be our first year growing sunflowers, as we were brutally thwarted last year by anemic sunlight and the oft-mentioned move.
  • TOMATO, Nyagous - We had some really good results with both Nyagous and Isis a couple of years ago. Two years ago, we were devastated to lose most of our crop to blossom end rot. Last year was a bust, not to mention the ravages of the late blight pestilence. This year is going to be our year for tomatoes. It just HAS to be! Oh yeah, Nyagous is a purplish red medium sized tomato good enough to eat all by itself.
  • TOMATO, Isis Candy - Another favorite, this cherry variety is incredibly sweet, almost and indulgence.
  • TOMATO, San Marzano - This is the renowned paste tomato of yore, popular in Italy. We've gotten some underwhelming results in the past but are looking forward to a better experience this year. We're going to be using the seeds we saved from Genesis Farm two summers ago.
  • TOMATO, Gold Medal - This is the only new tomato we'll be growing this year. As with the Nyagous and Isis candy, Gold Medal comes from Seeds Savers Exchange. We figured we could use some color in the tomato section so we went with this early-yielding golden variety.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Operation Deerterrent (Part 1 of Many)

According to my therapist, I'm finally ready to post this first installment in our latest mini-saga: Operation Deerterrent. Yes, those cute, pesky indigenous antelope roam in billions around our new locale. I've decided to take preemptive action before we start growing a damn thing. Immediately after installing leading-edge steel deercatchers on the fronts of both our cars, I broke ground on our first major gardening project at the new house--none other than the construction of a 6' high, 280' long deer fence.

As with my other past (and most likely future) projects, Operation Deerterrent began with a freakish amount of research, planning, and anxiety. After some online research and plenty of local scouting, I drew up some plans and then immediately abandoned them in favor of some other, more complicated and expensive plans. After discarding those, I settled on a hybrid design and gathered the materials:

280LF 4' wide hog-wire fencing
280LF 3' wide chicken-wire fencing
(28) 8' 4X4 pressure treated wood posts
(28) 60# bags concrete
(2) 6' wide chain link swing gates

The plan was pretty straightforward. The fence consists of 28 evenly spaced posts around a rectangular area with 83' X 50' dimensions. Each post was to be set in concrete at a depth of 30" below grade. Next, a 12" deep by 6" wide trench was to be dug and filled with a chicken wire barrier to stop burrowing varmints like rabbits, moles, and groundhogs. After securing the chicken-wire to the wooden posts, the hog-wire would be stretched and affixed to the posts as well. The chicken-wire would come up 18" from the ground and lap the hog-wire fence to create an "impenetrable" pest barrier. The gates would be installed last, one gate each in the middle of the 50' sides. Sounds pretty simple, eh? And how many of my past so-called simple projects have lived up to that expectation? Here are some of the myriad ways I underestimated the tasks before me.

For one thing, we live on top of a mountain. Granted, our little mountain is no K2 or anything (think foothills of the Appalachians), but the two share the distinction of both being made out of almost solid rock. As I soon discovered, rocks and digging implements don't get along too well.

Another potential problem arose from the sheer scope of the project. Digging a 12"X6" trench is no big task if it's 10 ft long; digging a nearly 300' long trench is another story. Obviously, this necessitated the use of power equipment which I didn't own and couldn't borrow. I added rental costs to the ever expanding expense list.

There were other challenges as well. Rented power equipment is not as easy or well-suited to the task at hand as it may seem. For instance, a mini-trencher sounds like the perfect tool to assist in the miserable labor of trench-digging. The model I rented was basically a colossal, unwieldy dirt chainsaw without any kind of safety mechanism at all. And that was even before the buried boulders began ambushing and mocking me. You'll have to wait to hear the rest. Time for a Xanax.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Out with the Old

Seed catalogs have started appearing in the mailbox early and often, and the post-holiday doldrums are perfect for planning the coming year's garden. This morning we went through our store of seeds, keeping the packets from last year we never got the chance to plant because of the move and tossing ones from 2007 and leftovers we weren't too keen on. There are also some special varieties we saved ourselves like San Marzano tomatoes and aji dulce peppers.

Here's the collection of old seeds, which, once the snow melts, we'll sprinkle in a corner of the property and see if anything sprouts. Maybe we'll be surprised.

And now, in with the new: Garlic is planted, fruit trees ordered, deer fence (mostly) finished. Let the 2010 garden planning begin!