Saturday, August 30, 2008

Progress of the Planter Boxes

My planter boxes are coming along very nicely. I have found that the green beans like to have their soil moist. They don't do well if you let the soil dry out between watering. This is amplified by being in a container on a raised deck. They get more breeze and being in a single row are not getting the humidity they would if more clustered in a garden bed.

I have been watering them exclusively with rainwater since we have gotten a barrel installed on all four corners of the house. It takes about a half gallon of water per planter box. I have saved some plastic gallon jugs and find if I fill them up in the evening it helps to have the water ready to go for early morning watering before I head off to work. It may just be my imagination, but it seems the beans and greens have really taken off and grown much faster since I am using rain water.

The one box of greens that I planted has been pretty productive. We have already has three or four spinach and mixed green salads. I will plant more boxes in greens next year. I have been snipping leaves from the greens rather than harvesting complete plants. I need to do some research to see if it is really better to pluck the entire mature plant or snip off leaves and let the plant grow back. I decided to snip for now since it is late in the season and I am not sure how much longer the plants will continue to grow with shortening days and the temperatures starting to cool down.

One thing I am considering is making a row cover or cloche by taking some wire hangers, cutting them and then bending into arches. I would put these in the containers and drape either plastic or a light white cloth over the beds to extend the growing season. This would allow me to grow greens well into the fall from what I have been reading. Especially the varieties that like cooler weather, such as the lettuces. I will most likely use row covers in the Spring so I can began growing greens as early as possible.

I also think that I may grow greens early on the deck rail then put some herb seedlings in as the next crop. It would be nice to have the herbs close to the kitchen.

My raised bed has become a jungle! It's not too pretty and I can't officially call it a Square Foot garden, since I am not using a permanent grid. If you don't have a permanent grid over the top of the garden, you aren't Square Foot Gardening, According to Mel Bartholomew. I am sure that I over-planted, but this is a "growing" learning process. And one done in installments as the budget allows. I will add at least one more raised bed next year, but ideally I would like to have four beds next year.

I may experiment and set up the raised beds two boards high rather than four boards as I have done this year. It's all up to how the Basset Hounds handle themselves. I either have to have tall raised beds or a fence if they decide they want to dig in the garden. I have considered creating a digging garden just for the dogs.

Recipe of the Day

My husband, Brian found a green tomato that had dropped of the vine. I love friend green tomatoes, but since I am on the Weight Watchers program, wanted to find a way to enjoy the green tomato without the added calories of breading and frying. Here is the recipe that I created using the recipe tool on the Weight Watchers web site. I used the green tomato from our garden and a zucchini and onion that came in our CSA bag. The herbs were from my garden.

Green Tomato and Zucchini Saute

Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 15 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Course: main meals

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup onion(s), diced
  • 1 green chili pepper, seeded and sliced into thin strips
  • 1 whole green tomato, sliced rounds
  • 1 cup zucchini, sliced rounds
  • 1/4 cup low-fat chicken broth
  • 1 Tbsp basil, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp rosemary, whole leaves, pulled from stem
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano, whole leaves pulled from stem
  • 1/2 cup canned tomatoes
  • Organic no-salt seasoning, to taste


Heat a skillet to medium heat and add the olive oil. Add the onions and chili pepper and stir to coat with oil. Cook until onion is just transparent. Add the tomato and zucchini rounds. Then add 1/4 cup chicken broth. Cook until the zucchini is tender. Add the fresh herbs and stir to mix. Add the canned tomato chunks and sprinkle with organic no salt seasoning. Serve as a side dish.

We served in two servings. You could have a smaller side and serve as four. Since the veggies are low calorie, I would simply double the recipe though.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vines in my Garden and Grape leaves on my Plate

While I was looking through my Weight Watcher's materials, I found that grape leaves are listed on the core plan food list. I wasn't expecting to see grape leaves on the food list and it sparked a thought about what I might try cooking next for dinner. I wrote a while back about all the vines that had wound themselves through my garden. Some of those vines are wild grapes.

When I got home, I searched the web for stuffed grape leaves recipes. After looking over a few for ideas I created a new version which is measured out for the Weight Watchers Flex food plan. I was excited to find a new "food" growing wild in the garden and had fun crafting the recipe and trying it out for dinner tonight. If you are daring, try it and you may find something new and fun for your dinner.

If you happen to be lucky enough to have some wild grapes in your yard or if you have planted some grapes, then you can grab the flower sheers and head out to the garden. Otherwise you will have to buy canned leaves or maybe you can find some leaves at a middle eastern market.

I selected 12 nice, large-sized grape leaves, then I headed for the herb garden where I have some cinnamon basil and cut about 1 cup of fresh basil and then about 1/2 cup of fresh parsley. Next I headed back in to begin the creative process called "making it up as you go." The following recipe is the result.

Joy's Stuffed Grape Leaves

Servings: 4
Preparation Time: 20 min
Cooking Time: 45 min
Level of Difficulty: easy to moderate
Course: main meals


1/2 cup uncooked SunWest Harvest Medley rice blend (from Costco) or use long grain, brown and wild rice blend.
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
1 tsp olive oil

12 large grape leaves, fresh
1 cup water

1 tsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1/2 pound 90% lean raw ground beef

1 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp black pepper, fresh ground, or to taste
12 dry-roasted salted almonds, finely chopped
1/2 cup parsley, fresh, chopped
1 cup basil, fresh, chopped


  1. In a pot, combine the chicken broth, 1 tsp of the olive oil and the rice (1/2 cup). Cook over medium heat for 30 minutes or until tender. (While rice is cooking is a great time to go cut the grape leaves and fresh herbs).
  2. In a large skillet, place a steamer basket and one cup water. Cover and heat until boiling. Layer the fresh grape leaves in the basket and cover. Turn heat down to low and cook until leaves are fully steamed.
  3. In a medium skillet, add 1 tsp olive oil and the chopped onions. Cook the onions until they start to become translucent and tender.
  4. Crumble the ground beef over the onions and stir until browned. Sprinkle the ground beef with the allspice and cinnamon.
  5. Grind black pepper to taste over the beef and stir.
  6. Add the chopped parsley, basil and the chopped almonds to the beef. Stir until combined and the herbs are tender.
  7. As soon as rice is done, spoon it into the beef mixture and stir to combine.
  8. Take a grape leaf and lay it flat, backside up, on a cutting board or plate. Spoon three tablespoons of the beef mixture onto the center of the leaf and roll from the stem side wrapping the leaf points in over the beef into a somewhat tight roll.
  9. Place rolled and stuffed leaf seam side down on a plate. Continue rolling until all leaves are rolled.
  10. Spray the rolled leaves lightly with olive oil spray and then squeeze juice from half a lemon over the rolls.

Serve warm with rice if desired and fresh cucumbers (Consider trying this: slice a cucumber into 1/8 inch slices and then place the slices in a clean quart glass jar and pour the following mixture over them to cover: 2 tablespoons vinegar, 1 cup water, 1 tsp dried dill and a dash of salt and a double pinch of sugar. Seal the jar with a lid and the keep over night in the refrigerator. The cucumber slices should keep for a couple of weeks, but you will probably eat them before that!).

Enjoy and have fun cooking with your own grape leaves and fresh herbs!

By the way, I weighed in today at Weight Watchers and had lost 3.4 pounds this week for a total of 9.8 pounds lost in just three weeks. (as they say, "results are not typical" but they are greatly appreciated!)

- Joy

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cooking with Tofu and Fresh Garden Herbs

Our food from the Hen House C.S.A* this week included a pound of tofu. My husband wasn't so sure about tofu, so I looked around for some interesting recipes. I customized one to the ingredients I had on hand. I have recently joined Weight Watchers so I am building a lot of recipes using their online tools. I promise to share the ones that turn our well with you, my readers.

Here you go, another "Recipe of the Day."

This is a very easy and delicious way to prepare a low fat, high protein dish and an unique way to serve tofu. Can be served as an appetizer or as a main dish. It is also a great way to use the fresh herbs you are growing in your garden.

Baked Italian Tofu

Servings: 4

Preparation Time: 15 min
Cooking Time: 12 min
Level of Difficulty: Easy
Course: Main meals, appetizers

  • 1 pound firm tofu, well drained
  • 1 cup basil, fresh leaves
  • 1 cup fresh oregano, fresh leaves
  • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 2 serving Kirkland Organic No-salt Seasoning, (2 teaspoons)
  • 2 clove garlic clove(s), finely minced
  • 1/8 cup water
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup marinara sauce


  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Season a pizza stone or baking pan with the olive oil and set aside.
  2. Slice one pound of firm tofu in slices 1/2" x 1" x 2". (I sliced the block in 1/2" slices and then cut each again long-ways.) Place the slices on a plate over a paper towel. Put another paper towel on top and then set a second heavy plate on top. Let sit for about five to ten minutes to remove moisture. If you are trying to cut down on using paper, then use two clean dish towels.
  3. Mix water and vinegar in a small bowl. Finely mince the garlic and add it to the water and vinegar. Let sit for five to ten minutes so that flavors combine. (steps 2 and 3 are completed during the same 5 - 10 minute period of time)
  4. Finely chop the fresh herbs. Add the dried Italian seasoning and the no-salt seasoning to the fresh herbs. Take the top dinner plate off of the tofu and spread the herb mixture evenly on a dinner plate.
  5. Pour the vinegar, water, garlic mixture onto another dinner plate. Then take four pieces of tofu at a time and place in liquid mixture to coat, pushing gently to pick up garlic. Then gently press the tofu slice into the herbs and turn to coat.
  6. Place the tofu pieces as they are coated with herbs onto the baking pan you have coated with olive oil. After all the pieces have been coated and placed on the pan, put the pan in the oven and bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
  7. Remove from oven when lightly browned and serve warm with Marinara Sauce.
*C.S.A : consumer supported agriculture; a subscription to fresh food from local farms.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Shout Down my Rain Barrel!

Say, say, oh playmate,
Come out and play with me
And bring your dollies three
Climb up my apple tree

Shout down my rain barrel
Slide down my cellar door
And we'll be jolly friends
Forever more more more more more.

Rain Barrels made from recycled materials
We went to a class provided by Bridging the Gap at a local recycling center last Tuesday evening and made two 55 gallon rain barrels. The rain barrels are made from mostly recycled materials. Big, white plastic food-quality drums are brought to the recycling center by Pepsi by the semi-trailer truck load about every 2 to three weeks and in a previous life contained soda syrup. The drums were being ground up and tossed in the land fill. Now they are finding a second and long life in the yards on both sides of the Missouri-Kansas state line as rain barrels.

The parts include: white Pepsi plastic barrel, an 8 inch plastic flower pot, nylon screen, rubber band made from tires reclaimed from recycled bikes, a male pipe connector, a sump pump hose, and a water spigot.

How to pull it all together: Turn the flower put upside down and draw a circle on the lid of the barrel. Use a jig saw to cut just inside the hole, maybe about 1/2 inch smaller so the pot can sit in the hole. The hole is just a little bit smaller than the lip of the flower pot. Take the strip of bike tire and tie it around the top of the pot, then take the screening and tuck it under the rubber band, pulling down tight all around tight. The flower pot sits in the hole on the top of the barrel and acts as a filter for the incoming water and also keeps out insects such as mosquitoes which look for standing water in which to breed.

Next drill with a saw hole bit and cut a hole about one inch in diameter at the bottom front of the barrel then screw in the water spigot. Then drill a hole high on the top side of the barrel to accommodate the sump pump hose. The hose serves as an overflow. (See how-to video below).

One of our two rain barrels is pictured on the left --->

In the future, we may make one barrel at a time. Picture a big white barrel in the back seat behind my husband who was scrunched next to a big white barrel in the passenger front seat. I was feeling like a pretzel in the right back and it was my job to watch out for traffic on the right since all mirrors were obscured by barrels.

Friday evening we the leveled the ground for the barrels and placed two cinder blocks in each spot as raised bases. Raising the barrels on blocks provides some added water pressure for the spigot and makes it easier to fill a watering can or attach a hose.

We were supposed to be having rain all week, but had no rain until this morning. We had all the supplies we needed to finish setting up the barrels. All we needed to do was cut the downspouts and attach the diverters. So we woke up to rain and hurried out to set up the barrels.

It was amazing. We had a somewhat light drizzly rain for a couple of hours. When we went to check the barrels after about an hour of rain. One barrel was already full and using its overflow hose. The other barrel's spigot was open...something we didn't notice while the barrel was we lost some water there.

Our instructor told us that a 1,000 square foot house can shed over 20,000 gallons of water a year. I believe it now after seeing how quickly our barrels filled today. The cost for two barrels: materials and class, $35 per barrel (the are raising the fee to $45 which is still a bargain), flexible diverter, screws and washers $18, cinder blocks about $6. Total about $104 for materials and setup of two 55 gallon barrels. If you bought pre-made barrels from a garden center, they would cost about $150 each. They might be a bit more aesthetic, but otherwise function no differently. Our barrels were about $52 each installed. We are planning to make a few more barrels and daisy chain them.

Here's a good resource for pre-made and custom-made rain barrels. You can also get some great ideas from the site: Aaron's Rain Barrels and More. I like Aaron's creative ideas for daisy chaining barrels and there's a great idea for a barrel stand made from landscaping stones.

Watch the video below for a pretty close example of how we made ours. The only difference is that we put screen-door screening over the top of the flower-pot version of an atrium gate. He puts a filtering cloth at the bottom. Our style of build allows the overflow tubing to be place higher. Watch the video and this will make sense.

Video: How to make your own rain barrel from a food-quality 55 gallon drum.

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Back to the Garden

Guardian of the Beach
The wizened old man who watches over Bethany Beach, Delaware is the first one to greet you and the last to say, "farewell." I would love to bring the old man home to my garden. Maybe I can find a big log and create my own someday. We had a great time at the beach and it seems we have been running ever since. But today I am determined to give you some updates of my suburban homestead as I am becoming to consider my plot of suburban land.

Back to the Garden
Some great things are happening in the garden. I am in love with the fresh herbs. The are beautiful and so fun to use in my cooking. I picked my first lovely white eggplant yesterday and plan to cook it tonight with dinner. I have made some awesome pesto. I will share a lite version with you at the end of this article.

Planters on the Deck
My new garden addition is five new railing planters for my deck. I saw them when we were at the garden center looking for a display solution for the wooden spirals Brian bought at Shorty's Shop in Bethany Beach. The wooden spirals have found a home next to the vegetable raised bed garden and a looking good there.The planter is plastic, but looks convincingly like clay. It has groove on the bottom so you just set it on the railing and plant. No brackets or screws. It's great. The pots come in two sizes of groove, 4 inch and 6 inch. The garden center had five 6 inch pots left on the shelf and I got them all. My raised bed is brimming over with plants and I have several packets of lettuce, spinach, collard greens, beans and more that I wanted a chance to plant. Late July to early August are the time to plant fall crops and a great time to plant some lettuce for fall. I plan to replant just as soon as I harvest the spinach and lettuce and if lucky, I may get several crops in through mid October.

I planted spinach and lettuce in one pot and then planted the others in three varieties of bush beans. In just a week, the seedlings are popping up. It's fun to have the plants on the deck and so close to the house.
Recipe of the day:

Pesto Sauce, Light
2 cloves garlic
2 cups fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh oregano
1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup almonds
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 T olive oil
1/8 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup fat-free chicken broth

  1. Add all fresh herbs to blender, then add the rest of the ingredients on top.
  2. Blend on low for 5 seconds then increase to medium speed for 15 seconds. You may need to tamp the ingredients down.
  3. Blend until just combined.
Serve as a dip with crackers and fresh cut vegetables such as carrots or celery. May also be used as a sauce over pasta. 8 servings; 2 Weight Watchers Points per serving.

(Zucchinis are on the way!)

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