#Love and #Gardening Go Together

DSC03106Here’s our yard in February 2014. It’s hard to be excited about gardening, but my husband usually manages to bring a little spring into our home every winter. However, this year he’s had a  few rough months, starting with our trip to Mexico in October. Finally, now in the first week of March, he’s showing signs of improvement after the final diagnosis of chronic diffused sinusitis and asthma.

His lack of energy, weight loss, and nagging cough worried me. But nothing worried me more than the day Robert looked at me after a particularly bad bout of coughing.

“I don’t think I can put a garden in this year,” he said. His shoulders drooped, and life seemed to have fled his eyes.

That one statement scared me more than anything else. My husband has never not had a garden. He grew up working with his father in his garden, and since he’s lived on his own, he’s always grown food. For him to give up gardening is to give up on living.

Robert's garden 2013

Robert’s garden 2013

The next few weeks saw little improvement as I hovered and continued to push him back to life. Then slowly it began to happen two weeks ago. He perked up and ordered a few seeds  from the dozens of catalogs arriving daily. He read about grafted tomato plants that resisted disease and asked me to order a few of them for delivery in April. I held my breath, until yesterday, when I knew we’d turned a corner. At brunch, I ordered an omelet stuffed with spinach. I said it tasted fresh but not quite as fresh as his straight from the garden.

“I need to get spinach seeds started this week,” he said. “We need to get those in the ground this month.”

“Welcome back,” I said as I reached for his hand.the leaves

Here’s one of my favorite winter recipes, using our tomato sauce and spinach we froze the previous spring.

Meatless Lasagna

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We enjoy this meal in the winter, using our canned tomato sauce and frozen spinach. You can do any variation you’d like, such as adding more vegetables or meat. I’ve developed this recipe over many years until I’ve finally found the right formula for having lasagna that is tasty and not liquidy when pulled out of the pan. One of the keys is to make the lasagna with raw noodles.

Ingredients – Gather all ingredients together before layering

7-8 cups tomato sauce

Lasagna noodles, raw (doesn’t use an entire box, but about 2/3)

l lb. mozzarella cheese

¾ cup of parmesan cheese

Filling – mix together the following ingredients

2 ½ cups cottage cheese (you can use ricotta, but I prefer cottage)

2 cups chopped and cooked spinach (frozen or fresh; this amount is for spinach cooked)

2 eggs

salt, pepper to taste

dash of nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a 13” x 9” x 2”, begin layering as follows:

Small layer of sauce on bottom of pan

Raw noodles

½ of filling

1/3 of sauce

½ of mozzarella cheese

Raw noodles

Rest of filling

Another 1/3 of sauce

Rest of mozzarella cheese

Raw noodles

Rest of sauce

Parmesan (or Romano works as well)

Cover and bake 60 minutes. Uncover and bake for additional 10 minutes. Take out of oven and allow to set for 15 minutes before serving. Freezes exceptionally well, and it’s even better as leftovers the next day.

This recipe and many more can be found in our book From Seed to Table, available both on Kindle and in paperback.

Click here

Click here

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, But Summer Produce is Hot!

It’s that time of year when it’s difficult to imagine the green of a lush garden as we look at the winter vistas outside the window. The seed catalogs arriving daily give us hope that the frozen tundra of our landscape in a few short months will turn into loose dirt ready for planting.

At our house, the onions are becoming seedlings under grow lights. Some of the onion seeds my husband ordered are on back order so we searched out local sources of seeds yesterday. Neither of the stores we checked that usually have packets of seeds near the check out had them. With the temperatures dipping to ten below degrees, maybe they’re finding it difficult to imagine anyone growing anything.

Even though we’re not venturing very far from home these days, we’re enjoying the products from the past year’s garden.

Peas, corn, spinach, or zucchini, frozen during the summer, grace our plates almost every night.  We also are eating winter squash frequently. We have butternut and a new variety my husband planted last summer. It’s called Heirloom Queensland Blue Squash.

Butternut and Heirloom Queensland squash

Butternut and Heirloom Queensland squash

It does have a bluish tinge to it, and it look as if the Jolly Green Giant stepped on it. But it is a sweet and lovely squash growing to 10 pounds or more. I boiled cut up pieces of one the other day and it made ten cups of pureed squash.

I used it to make a “pumpkin” pie, which means I used a pumpkin pie recipe substituting two cups of pureed Queensland Blue instead of pumpkin. My husband and I thought it tasted better than pumpkin, but then anything that reeks of freshness in these days of arctic frigidness ranks very high on our taste-bud list.

I hope you’re staying warm. I just checked the outdoor temperature, and it’s already down to one degree at 4 p.m. They predict wind chills to be thirty below. How is that even possible?

Back to dreaming of the summer to come – here’s a photo to help us remember that somewhere sometime in the not too distant future, we will once again thaw out and see green everywhere.

Let me know about your garden dreams and realities. Perhaps the weather isn’t as frightful where you live.cropped-dsc01306.jpg

 

From Seed to Table is now available in paperback.

A Natural Bird Feeder

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

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My husband likes to plant sunflowers around the periphery of the garden. This beauty is a volunteer from years past. Soon it will develop seeds in the center and feed the songbirds in our yard.

We don’t leave out traditional bird feeders during spring and summer because it draws all kinds of wildlife who also love to munch on our garden produce. Instead, in the summer we have the sunflowers to give some natural food to my feathered friends.

 

The other flowers in the yard are flourishing as well. Some of them are perrenials and others are annuals I plant in pots around the patio. That way I can move them around for  sun, rain, and aesthetics.DSC02592 DSC02595

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy summer.

 

January Gardening?

catalogs galore

catalogs galore

By Patricia Zick @PCZick

The seed catalogs appear in the mailbox daily now. Today we ordered seeds for broccoli, brussel sprouts, radishes (both red and the long white variety), lettuce, Swiss chard, parsley, basil, and flowers. However, the catalogs came a little late for onions. After consultation with Llewellyn’s 2013 Moon Sign Book, my husband determined the best time to start the seeds was in the waning days of 2012.

So while we were in Florida over Christmas, my husband began sprouting onion seeds. He buys the cheapest and thinnest paper towels and places a layer of seeds on one sheet. Then he piles sheet upon sheet until the top of the plastic container is full. He dampens the towels with water and keeps the container in a warm place. He treated his package as if it was a pet, carrying it inside wherever we visited and adding water as necessary to keep the towels damp.

the sprouts after ten days in damp paper towels

the sprouts after ten days in damp paper towels

This year he sprouted seven varieties of onions – both short and long day types – of yellow, white, and red.

By the time we arrived back in Pennsylvania, the seeds had sprouted in their paper towel womb. The thin paper towel helps those tiny little sprouts from sticking to the layers.

A week ago, he put the seedlings into four-pack containers filled with regular potting soil with a very small quantity of organic and rock fertilizers. He uses a five-gallon bucket for soil (two-thirds filled) and throws in a handful of the fertilizers. Once the packs are filled with dirt, he pokes holes in each section with a pencil.

pencil poking

pencil poking

Then he “pokes” the onion seedlings into the soil.

poking onion sprouts

poking onion sprouts

Now the seedlings are growing happily under grow lights in cupboards in our family room. Unfortunately, we don’t have a heated greenhouse, but we’ve found a way to manage.

minutes in soil

minutes in soil

a week later after living in a cupboard under grow lights (set on a timer)

a week later after living in a cupboard under grow lights (set on a timer)

Now we await the shipment of the rest of the seeds. Some seeds, such as tomatoes, peppers, and butternut squash, he’s kept from last year’s crop. But he’ll still get some new seeds, even though each year I tell him more than twenty healthy tomato plants are way too much for two people unless I set up a roadside stand.

How about you? Are you sprouting seeds, looking at catalogs, waiting for the nurseries to open with plants, or anticipating the local farmer’s market in your area? Whatever you do, locally grown food is always the best choice.

last year's crop we're enjoying this winter

last year’s crop we’re enjoying this winter

Note: We recycle the magazines when we’re done with them each year. We also reuse all the four- and six-pack containers as well as the trays.