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Getting started with gardening

I hear more and more from people who want to get into gardening, feel overwhelmed, don’t know where to start and so on.

For the ‘I want to garden’ part, I say, “Hurray!! Another convert!”
For the ‘overwhelmed, don’t know where to start part,’ I say, “Ok, pour yourself a cup of coffee or tea and let’s sit down and talk about this a little bit.”

I don’t really care about why you want to garden (I’m a ‘find a hole and fill it’ sort of gardener myself and earned my stripes entering weasley looking carrots and droopy lettuce in a junior garden club show run by the local Men’s garden club when I was in the sixth grade. Somewhere, someplace, that white ‘honorable mention’ ribbon is at the bottom of a box in memory). I don’t care if the only thing you ever grew is a houseplant on a windowsill..or if you never grew anything at all but want to now. I don’t care if your interest is a whole bed of sweet corn, a year’s worth of broccoli or a tomato plant in a pot.

What I do care about is that you ENJOY it. A very short story to illustrate: Once, many years ago, the DH got super ambitious and decided that we needed a MUCH larger garden. Like, huge. And he decided to rip up a spot on the hill next to the barn that was probably 1/4 acre.

With a pick and a shovel. Not even a lawn tractor with a tiller on it. By hand. And he spent his entire vacation with this, hour after hour…day after day. The amount of sweat he put into that was amazing. And by the end of it, we had row upon row of tomato plants and pepper plants and potatoes and carrots and onions, all nicely planted, with the seeds just waiting to come up. And he decided to do just one..more…bit…of..a..dig.

And we ended up at the doctor’s with the DH, me pregnant with child number two, the 2 year old (who was grumpy at the time because we had interrupted her nap), and a completely useless arm. He’d ripped several tendons with all the digging you see. He spend the rest of the summer in a brace on his arm.

So, there we were with garden as far as the eye could see. I could only keep up with a rather small amount of all of that, so rather sooner than later, the garden disappeared under a jungle of weeds, squashes running rampant and goodness knows what else. We did not garden again for a very long time after that. When we did, we analyzed what had gone so horribly wrong.

First, location. The damn thing was so far away from the house that even just going up there was a chore. When we had first started gardening, at a different house, the garden was about 10 steps from the back door. We had a lovely time after dinner most nights just going out and taking a look at what was going on, pulling the odd weed, harvesting the odd bean or tomato. On weekends, we would put in a bit more work in terms of weeding, hacking back the spaghetti squashes with a lawn mower, that sort of thing. But the lesson here is this: Locate where you are going to grow stuff to eat close to where you are going to be, whether it’s on the deck in a planter box, next to the back door, next to the driveway where you are going to see it, a LOT. That makes it convenient and it also puts it where critters are not necessarily going to be able to get to it without being close to you (which they really don’t like).

Next, size. What the DH did was a case of ‘eyes bigger than stomach’ issue which put the garden into the range of requiring a team of people with gas-powered equipment to keep in shape. With him out of action and only one of me, we were defeated before we even started. Lesson from this: Keep the size of the thing, especially if you are just getting started, in the range of something you can get your arms around. This might be a couple of pots with tomatoes on the deck, or a flower box with collard greens and lettuce next to the back door, or some herbs. Or planting Rainbow Chard in the flower patch next to the back door (the stems are almost ‘glow in the dark’ so they are pretty splashy with the flowers). If you want to start with one bed, then make it something like 3 feet wide by 10 feet long. You can get a lot of production out of a space that big and as long as you keep an eye on it and pull the occasional weed, you can keep it under control and harvest things as you see them ripen. But, for the love of all things gardening, do NOT start with something 30 feet by 30 feet – after a month, you won’t be able to find a thing, trust me.

Other gardening thoughts for beginners:
What do you want to grow? What do you already like to eat and eat a LOT of? When you first start, it is completely easy to have things get out of hand. Like tomatoes? Then start with one, maybe two plants and make them two different things – like a cherry tomato and a plum tomato for sauce. You’ll get more cherry tomatoes than you can possibly dream of ever having, and you’ll have enough plum tomatoes to make fresh tomato sauce (which is heaven) and to freeze for winter sauce making and eating (take them out a little bit before you make a salad so that they are defrosting and you will have something that will beat any tomato you can find in the store, trust me). Like peppers? Buy a six-pack of sweet pepper plants and plant those. Take my advice and don’t buy a six-pack of hot pepper plants – you will end up with more hot peppers than you can ever use. Do you eat a lot of Italian (or Greek or Spanish) food? Then get plants for basil, oregano, cilantro and grow those (either in pots on the deck or in the garden). You can never have too much in the way of fresh herbs and eating a fresh tomato from your garden with fresh basil and olive oil is (well, I’m going to start there so I don’t start to swoon). What you don’t want to do it this: Grow a lot of stuff that you don’t already eat. Get your gardening legs under you so that you feel confident about growing the stuff you DO like to eat and then branch out from there. What you don’t want to do is finish the garden season with the thought that you threw out a lot of stuff that you couldn’t get your family to eat.

Something else: Don’t think that you are somehow some sort of weeny if you don’t grow things like tomatoes, peppers and so on from seed under lights inside your house. There is absolutely nothing wrong (or weak or silly or evil) about going to your local home and garden center and buying your plants there. Find someone truly local (not the big box national chains) to buy your plants – they will be growing things that they know will grow and grow well for you in your climate. You’ll be able to get a tomato plant in a big pot for the deck, for example – it might even already have flowers on it (woohoo!!). Much more enjoyable for someone just starting out.

Getting things started in the garden

Well, spring really sneaked up on us here at Chez Siberia (and probably a lot of other places as well). One moment, we have six inches of snow with freezing temperatures and the next… 50 degrees and sunshine.

Nothing like that to wake up the ‘we’d better start the tomatoes’ feelings.

Now, all long-range weather forecasts are telling your old Aunty that this summer is going to be not very warm (of course, all things are relative) – they are calling for temperatures in July and August to be 5-10 degrees cooler than normal. Which means that I needed to choose tomatoes that have a note on them saying something like, ‘cold tolerant’ or ‘will set fruit even in cooler temperatures’, because tomatoes are one of those tricky beasts. Most of them require warm night-time temperatures to set fruit. If temperatures are going to be iffy, then this is the way I hedge my bets.

Starting tomato seeds is really pretty simple. You need all the usual things – seed starting mnix, something to put it in, some warmish water, the seeds and a source of bottom heat. I use a heating mat, but I also got a metal grill to put on top of it to hold the box above the wwarmth a little bit. If I put the box of soil right on the mat, the soil mix gets to a temperature of over 80 degrees. Yes, I want warm soil but that will cook the seedlings, so I hold it away. If I didn’t have a metal grill to raise the box, I’d put an old towel on top of the mat to do the same thing. I also am a keen re-user of those plastic boxes that you can get salad mix in at the grocery store. They are relatively sturdy and have a lid that snaps on tightly to hold in the warmth and the moisture for the early stages of growing the seedlings until I need to transplant them out into bigger pots.

Now, this really is something you can do on the window sill at home as long as you have a sunny window, though you do need to keep watch to turn the seedlings so that they don’t grow all in one direction. I have an unheated greenhouse (and right now the temperature in that is 36 degrees – once the sun comes around the corner of the house, it will go up nicely into the 70+ range), but between the warming mat and my covering up the box with a big clear plastic bag, the soil is warm enough to keep the seedlings going.

Something that I am doing new this year (and I realize this sounds a bit daft at this point in the game) is that I am not putting any sort of seed identification markers IN the box. I’ve actually ended up numerous times with mold and other issues inside the box with the wood tags that I’ve used, so I’m doing something different this year. The humble piece of masking tape on the outside of the box.
I figure I can just write on the tape and won’t have as many issues inside the box until it is time to transplant.

Speaking of temperatures (digression), this year’s long winter and very cold temperatures have set me way back. Usually I can get out, put clear plastic or glass over one of the beds and get the soil up to 50 degrees so that I can put in cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Chinese cabbages, beets, chard and lettuces. Not this year. I went out this week and took the soil temperature and it was still under 40 degrees F. Not warm enough for me to encourage it with a piece of glass or plastic, I’m afraid. I’ll try taking the temperature again today since we’re supposed to have a nice warm sunny day (again, all relative; it’s supposed to be 50 degrees F). Perhaps I’ll have better luck today.

In other areas of the garden, we’re starting to see the leaves from some of the many bulbs I planted in the fall. The crocuses are up, bless ‘em, but nothing else so far. It will be very interesting to see how the bulb patch looks once it’s in full flower mode. The patch, frankly, is a supremely ugly spot under which is our new septic system. So, of course, in the digging, installing, and filling in, we lost all of the top soil (despite our begging the contractor to set it aside on a tarp that we oh-so-thoughtfully put out for him) and have nothing there but horrific weeds which we have been assiduously yanking out and replacing with hardy perennials, in the hope that they will beat the nasty guys back (I know, wishful thinking). In the fall, I planted several hundred bulbs of various sorts and we shall see if that gives us a little bit of pleasure in the next couple of months.

Hope your spring gardening is coming along! Anything new and exciting in your garden?

One a penny, two a penny..hot cross buns

This is the time of the year when you can find all sorts of seasonal/holiday treats in your local grocery store or bakery (if you have one). My seasonal guilty pleasure are hot cross buns. I have not had them in years but my brain certainly remembers the taste and so..I picked up a package along with the rest of the grocerias. When I got home, I settled myself down with a cup of tea and one of these shiny buns with the sugar cross on the top.

Tasted … just…like…paper towels. For a second, I was wondering if it was me, somehow. I have had a nasty cold for a while, so I tried out one of them on the DH. Ditto. So, I checked the ingredients.

No eggs. No milk. No butter. No wonder…. (more…)

Think Irish? Think Lamb!

Yes, yes, I know, St. Patrick’s Day is coming up fast and the usual thing is corned beef and cabbage. But, let me make the case for something else: lamb.

First, let’s look at this historically.
Anyone in Ireland who ate beef was probably a) rich and b) not Irish. Raising beef takes a lot of land. For the amount of land you need to raise a beef cow, you can raise a small herd of sheep. Which is why lamb and mutton has always been far more available and popular in Ireland than beef because even if you were a crofter and had only a small patch of land to work with, you could raise a bunch of sheep and have not only meat but also wool. So, if you want to be ‘Irish-Irish’, eating lamb is just more Irish than eating beef of any sort to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.

Second, let’s look at this nutritionally.
Courtesy of our friends at nutrtional data, for a 3-ounce portion (and I think we can all accept that no one actually eats JUST a 3-ounce portion, but at least we are comparing ounce for ounce here.
Cooked Corned Beef…………………………….Roast Leg of Lamb
Calories: 210……………………………….220
Fat: 15 grams……………………………….15 grams
Protein: 15 grams……………………………..22 grams
Sodium: 960 mg……………………………….55 mg.

These last two are the bell-ringers here. Lamb, ounce for ounce, has more protein than beef does, though it does have the same amount of fat, so in terms of ‘protein bang for the buck’, lamb wins here. Secondly, and I think from a health perspective, even MORE importantly, corned beef is a just a huge sodium hit and I realize for a lot of people, that is the entire point of eating meats like corned beef and pastrami: they love the salt. Well, the salt does NOT love us or our hearts or blood pressure. That 3 ounces of corned beef (and again, who eats just a 3-ounce portion – that’s the size of a pack of cards) is way too much and let’s not even discuss anything else that will be eaten with the meal, like potatoes (going to salt those, too, right?). So, roast lamb wins out here too. Just 55 mg. of sodium. That’s one of those ‘pat myself on the back’ meals right there.

So. For those folks out there who have ‘Fear of Lamb’, here is Aunt Toby’s handy dandy so-simple it hurts roast leg of lamb.
You’ll need:
Meat thermometer or probe
Boneless leg of lamb roast – 3-5 pounds, fresh or defrosted, at room temperature
5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine.
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary with the leaves removed; save one for the top of the roast.
Small baking pan
One medium sized onion, sliced up

This is going to take a couple of hours, so don’t plan for this being something you can throw into the oven when you get home from work on Monday night, ok?

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
Take your lamb roast. It is probably either trussed up with string or it’s in one of those elastic nets. Take off the net.
Flip it open or unroll it depending on how the butcher did the deed. Take all the garlic and spread it onto the cut surface of the meat. Then sprinkle all the rosemary leaves on top. You should have the same amount of coverage as you see in the photograph here. Then take your black pepper grinder and grind a couple of good strong grinds of pepper on the surface. Then re-roll the roast or flip back the outside on top.

Now, how are you going to make this thing hold together while it’s roasting. If it was trussed with string, use the string you took off to unroll it and wind it around again after you’ve rerolled it. If your meat came with one of those elastic nets on it, here is the way you get it back on again without the whole thing flipping out and ending in a wreck on the kitchen floor.

Put the net over the ends of your hands, as in the photograph and put your hands over the closed end of the roast. Move your hands forward until you have the netting about half-way up the roast. Then take your hands out of the net. Use your fingers to pull the ends of the net over the front and back ends of the roast. Voila!

Take your baking pan and put your sliced onions into the bottom in the center. Put the roast on top of that; this will prevent the roast from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Put the pan into the 350 degree F. oven for 30 minutes. At the end of 30 minutes, turn the oven down to 170 degrees F or the lowest setting your oven has. Yes, I know this is sort of scary — but lamb does not take well to high heat. If you have horrific smell memories of Sunday lamb roasts, this is the reason why – the fat was burning in the high heat. Lamb does super well in ‘low and slow’ cooking. Leave your lamb at this low temperature for an hour and stick in the probe or meat thermometer to test the center for temperature. You are looking for 160 degrees F at the center. If it has already gotten to 140+ but you are looking to speed this up, you can raise the oven to 250 degrees F and the roast will not suffer – the outside will get a bit crunchy-er which some people like.

Once you have reached 160 degrees F at the center of the roast, take the pan out, wrap the meat in the foil tent and prepare the other side dishes (I am pushing Brussels Sprouts this week, but to each his own), and serve.

NO MINT JELLY.

Bon appetit!!

Searching the seed catalogs

For all I love the internet and seed sites (I have a very long history with seed companies..we won’t even go into that), there is something totally different about reading a catalog. I find I get so much more out of what’s on offer and this year, because the long range weather forecast is so weird (cool but dry), I have to scan more carefully than ever for magic words such as: ‘tolerant’ and ‘cold tolerant’.

I also like to get right to what is new. I think every gardener is like that. Yes, we all love our Danvers Half-long Carrots and San Marzano Tomatoes, but it’s always interesting to see what stars the seed companies have hitched their wagons to this year. Here are some interesting things that I’m looking into.

Kosmic Kale (Territorial Seed): PERENNIAL Kale. Perennial is one of those words I look for also, as I’d rather plant something once and then…move on. This is something you have to buy (right now – if it’s like other new introductions, seed will be available down the road) as a plant, but if you eat kale (and who should not?), then this is something you might want to consider.

Wasabi ‘Daruma’ (Territorial): OK, so Wasabi is not new, but it IS something, like ginger, which is getting more attention in terms of people’s trying to grow it here (esp in the Pacific Northwest). Again, this is something for people who love a challenge (for most of us, tomatoes and peppers are challenging enough).

Grafted Vegetable Plants (tomatoes, Peppers, et al.) Now, Territorial seemed to be the seed house that introduced this a couple of years ago. I have to admit that I saw this as a totally cosmetic and ridiculous offering until a friend of mine got some grafted tomatoes to try last year. His success rate with them vastly beat his seed-grown plants. Territory also offers grafting rootstock seeds and clips, so for those folks who want the benefits of grafting (disease resistance) but don’t want to pay the heavy freight, that might be the way to go.

Rapper Basil(Territorial): The magic words here are ‘slow-flowering’ — one of my biggest annoyances with growing basil is bolting, so this is something to look at. It also has huge 4-6 inch leaves, which not only plays into my urge to throw basil into sandwiches but also my need for lots and lots of basil for drying.

Spring Beet Blend (Territorial): OK, so you’ve had it with kale and are still not ready to take on Brussels Sprouts. It’s time to do some beets. OK, so you don’t like the fact that they bleed. This blend has orange and white beets which don’t bleed. Plant a whole row out as thickly as you can — pull up the small leaves, thinning the plants as you go so that you leave(heh) a couple of inches between to grow the rest of the beet below ground. Beet greens are nutritional powerhouses so this is a plant where you get a two-fer out of it.

Merida Carrots (Territorial): For those of us who just can’t seem to get out into the garden in the fall to harvest, this is YOUR carrot. 240 days, people — this is an overwintering carrot. I’m not sure this will work up here (probably better suited to more southern areas), but I’m certainly willing to give it a try. Plant in September and harvest… the next May. How cool is that?

Celery: Now, if you had to ask 1000 gardeners to list their top 5 vegetables that they absolutely grow, celery is not one of them which is too bad. Celery is also one of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ in terms of the sheer amounts of chemical residues found on them in produce bought at the grocery store — in commercial production, they are sprayed like fury. And I can tell you from my experience that celery is actually … quite easy to grow. As a matter of fact, one year, I grew it and then dug up a plant for the greenhouse for wintering over and eating and it was tender and quite delightful. Territorial has an organic and stunningly colored one called ‘RedVenture’. Just don’t plant it next to your rhubarb chard.

Pip, Pip … and all those sorts of disasters

Never, ever let it be said that your dear old Aunty cannot snatch disaster from the jaws of victory. Given enough distractions, 50-odd years of cooking muscle memory can go flying right out the window, taking the recipe with it, straight down into the toilet.

Exhibit A: This morning, before the DH and I left to go to a sort-or local museum (any museum that does not require suiting up for a 4 hour drive qualifies as ‘sort of local’ in my book) for a workshop, I wanted to make cookies. Not just any cookie, mind you, but the sort of cookie that I was able to find in literally every coffee shop, tea counter, railroad commissary, and museum cafe when we were in London, UK. Which was recently (did I forget to tell you that? Well, we WERE). These cookies are basically referred to as ‘chocolate caramel shortbreads’ and range from the blatantly ‘the only connection in these biscuits with real ingredients is in your head’ commercial sort, shrink-wrapped in cellophane, to something which might elicit noises found in that deli scene from “When Harry Met Sally.” So, once we returned, I was determined to recreate them simply so I could get my fix have the memory available.

And luckily, through the agency of Millionaire Shortbread Bars, I thought I’d happened on the recipe version of the ‘slam dunk.’

No such luck. Distracted by the time, a nasty cough, thoughts about the workshop, and snow outside the window, I completely lost it. The recipe for the shortbread part of this affair calls for 3/4 of a cup of butter. No great shakes, I thought at the time, that’s three sticks.

Woops. No wonder once I took the 9×9″ pan out of the oven, that it did not look like shortbread; it looked like shortbread soup. That’s when it hit me: 3/4 of a cup of butter is 1.5 sticks; not 3 – big trouble. But I was not in a mood to throw that in the trash and start again (I didn’t have time, either); I scooped it into a heat-proof bowl, added more sugar and almond flour (frankly, that is what I had at my hand; I could just as easily have used regular all-purpose flour, which is what I used the first time, so this shortbread is half flour/half almond flour). I mixed that up, said a little prayer to the kitchen gods and goddesses and pressed it into a 9×13″ pan and put it back into the 350 degree F. oven for another 20 minutes.

And…it came out like a champ. I thought I was home free.

Not so fast. The caramel layer calls for taking a can of sweetened condensed milk and heating it for 60-90 min. OR, if using the microwave, doing various calisthenics with the zapper.

In a large heat-proof bowl.

Not a large Pyrex(tm) measuring cup. Well, I thought it was large enough until some rather disturbing noises started coming from the microwave — it was boiling over. So, I hauled it out, transferred it to the biggest heat-proof bowl I’ve got and cleaned the rest of what had boiled over onto the glass microwave tray into the bowl too. No, we are NOT going to discuss the fact that someone had been heating up spaghetti sauce and had not cleaned up the tray afterward. I was a desperate woman and what’s a little tomato and basil in the cookies between friends, right? So, I went back to microwaving it, lowering the power and stopping it, stirring it and so on until it turned brown.

With the texture of tile cement, I might add. Tasted fantastic – but spreadable? Nyet. Addition of a little milk, dribs and drabs as we go to restore a bit of “liquification.” Plopped that into the pan of now-cooled shortbread and (not in the recipe, but I figure chopped walnuts cannot ruin anything) added a double handful of walnuts, chopped up pretty well. And it looked like this: Pretty darned good.

Again, I deluded myself into thinking I was ’rounding third’; all I had to do was make the chocolate layer, which called for a teeny bit of butter and chocolate chips. More cement. I added more butter – it looked better but still had all the appeal of chocolate cement. Out came the milk again. This was NOT the nice shiny layer that I was looking for. And time was getting short. So, frankly, I plopped the entire deal on top of the walnuts, pushed it around to cover with a wet rubber spatula and as the DH was honking the horn on the car outside, slid the pan into the fridge to wait for out return.

Final result? What you see in the top photo. The texture of the top layer is just like the ones in London – a bit resistant at first and then you hit the nuts and caramel. The shortbread is mmmmmm. From an appearance standpoint, I need to work on that chocolate layer to get it smooth and shiny (confections are NOT my strong suit – anyone have any ideas?), but other than that, I can recommend these heartily.

Pour a cuppa!!

Last-minute dinner

Sometimes, everything in the day just conspires to prevent you from being super organized and you come home at 5 p.m. to nothing taken out for dinner. This is one of those lessons in having things on the shelf. Not that I would promote this on an ongoing basis, but sometimes, you want something fast and good. This is as fast and good as I’ve got:

Cannellini and Pasta

What you will need from off the shelf:
Pasta such as penne
1 can of cannellini beans
2 cans of diced tomatoes (or home canned, if you’ve got them)
1 big onion, diced
1 can of mushrooms (or fresh, sliced up, if you’ve got them)
Optional: a can of artichoke hearts, rinsed and soaked in cold water, squeezed out and cut in half.

Cook your pasta according to directions, to al dente.
In a large pan (frying or dutch oven), sautee the onion and muchrooms, add the cannellini beans and diced tomatoes and cook up.
Add the pasta and warm through, and add the artichokes and warm through.

Now, if you are scrounging around in the fridge and have something like escarole, chard, or spinach, you can chop that up and throw that into the pan toward the end to cook through and that is a very nice addition. OR, you can serve this with salad.

Very quick, tasty, and vegetarian.
Bon Appetit!

Starting this year’s garden

So, there you are, with the pile of seed catalogs (or the URLs of home gardener seed companies and your computer) and feeling overwhelmed. You’d like to have a garden this year. You’d like to grow more of the vegetables that your family eats (fruits too, if you are feeling ambitious), but there are so many varieties to try. What’s going to work for you?

What I always tell people who ask me about starting a garden is this: Start with what your family already eats. Just sit down with a pencil and paper and think about what gets put on the plate at your house and what gets eaten. Not the ‘awwww, do I have to eat this?” sort of response and with pulling and shoving and lots of sighs and finally a bit gets chewed up and hopefully swallowed. I mean, eaten. And I don’t care if it’s eaten covered with cheese, catchup, tomato sauce, parmasan cheese, ranch dressing, Italian salad dressing or melted butter and lemon juice. I mean eaten and, it is hoped, with relish and perhaps with yummy noises as well.

That list might be actually fairly small (and that is ok – we have basically 10 go-to veggies at Chez Siberia other than potatoes and onions), but that is ok. Here is out list:
Cabbage Family Plants (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Kale)
Carrots
Fresh Green Beans
Peas
Beet Family Plants (Chard and Beets)
Spinach
Greens of various sorts
Tomatoes
Peppers
Squashes and curcubits (summer, winter)

Once you have that list, for the first time you have a garden, try to keep your eyes smaller than your stomach – don’t go crazy, don’t rip up your entire yard. There are two means to success: First, only dig up as much as you can keep control over. If that is a 4 foot by 4 foot block, then so be it. If that is one 3 foot by 10 foot bed, then so be it. The DH once dug up about a quarter of an acre of the yard by hand, made beds, planted everything and ripped up one of the tendons in his arm. I was very pregnant at the time, so all of that sat out there while he was all bandaged up. Needless to say, finding the harvest was the challenge. We could have done a lot better with one bed. Second, not only pick types of veggies that your family eats (if all you can get your kids to eat is tomatoes of any sort – fresh in salads or processed for sauce for pizza and pasta – then grow tomatoes), but also pick varieties that will work for you and your location. Every seed site or catalog will have a USDA zone map which will tell you dates of last frost in the spring and first frost in the fall. Count up the days in between those two dates and you’ve got your growing season. Make sure you choose varieties of those veggies which will mature (that is, give you stuff that you can eat) which have shorter maturation than your growing season.

For example, here at Chez Siberia, to be frank, we are taking a huge risk if we put in plants like tomatoes and peppers before Memorial Day. The first week is June is sort of ‘iffy’ in terms of getting a frost. Likewise, although my zone information says that my first killer frost is the end of September or early October, we’ve been known to get freaky Canadian jet stream stuff during the first ten days of September which has killed everything in the garden except for the cabbage family. So, I only count June, July and August for my growing season: 92 days. So, in choosing tomato seeds to grow plants (or, if I were the sort of person to buy my plants at the local- not big box chain store – greenhouse, I’d check the labels on the six packs, the number of days to maturation will be there also), I’m going to go for the shortest days to maturation that I can find. One more hint on this — the smaller the tomato, the smaller the number of days to maturation, generally. So, cherry tomatoes are almost a ‘no-brainer’ here at Chez Siberia; beefsteak tomatoes will be something that I’d start a couple of plants super early and keep transplanting them into bigger and bigger pots until it is warm enough to transplant them outside, AND I’d put black plastic on the ground where I was planning to plant them to make sure the ground is nice and warm also. So, for example, for a beefsteak type tomato, I’d choose Pruden’s Purple (which is an heirloom tomato, tastes great, and has a days to maturity of 72 Days) over Black Brandywine (which is another heirloom, but has a days to maturity of 90 days).

Another thing to think about is this: If you have never gardened before, and you have children, it will be far easier to get them to eat what you are growing if the stuff looks familiar. So, if what your children think of as a ‘tomato’ is red (or, you eat green peppers at home, as another example), then make sure that you pick varieties which mature looking like what they expect the item to look like — a round, red tomato, not a black or purple Russian type, or a pepper that matures as a chocolate brown color. After a couple of years, you can branch out a bit and grow purple carrots, purple broccoli, fingerling blue potatoes and so on. But for the first time, just take it easy.

Live blogging a snowstorm

With the best will in the world, there is not much Aunt Toby can do this morning about the weather in the eastern US. I’m frankly hunkered down in a motel room near an airport, lighting candles and hoping for a break in the weather in time for the DH and I to take a plane to London to make the acquaintance of the newest member of the fam. It is uniformly horrific everywhere and I have every belief that our flight will get cancelled again.

Such is the way with climate change and travel.

So, since I have absolutely no tools at my disposal (no can opener, no shovel, no gas grill, nuthin’) to do anything for readers today, I do have access (obviously) to the archives of KCE and I’ve pulled out a couple of hopefully useful and perhaps even a bit entertaining posts which might help someone out there over the next couple of days.

Take care of yourselves out there.
Cooking on an outdoor grill: cooking on the grill in the snow

General Prep and Operations: What to do

Oh yeah – dress warm, ok?

Everything you NEVER wanted to know about ‘magic cookie bars’

When I started thinking about this post, all I figured on discussing was the fact that the socalled ‘magic cookie bar’, which is almost a staple at school and church bake sales and Christmas cookie swaps, is actually an item which is not set in stone because the thing that makes the bar cookie ‘magic’ is the final addition of a product known as ‘sweetened condensed milk.” Once I started looking around for different versions, it was startling to me how much creativity has been thrown at this item, which frankly, I did not discover until well into adulthood. We certainly did not have them when I was a child – the addition of chocolate chips to oatmeal cookies was about as thrilling as it got at our house. (more…)

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