Ah, spring is in full swing over here! Time to get the garden planted, spruce up the neglected yard and keep reveling in our early bounty before the sun’s glare starts beating the green out of everything. And believe me, that won’t be too long from now if you live in Tucson. It was another packed week of work, entertaining, and The Modeens’ first out of town show (2 hours to the north in Tempe) – but the vitamin-rich veggies from the CSA kept us on a (close to) even keel.
Here was the booty of the week:
Still green as green can be – fitting for St Patrick’s Day weekend. The Swiss Chard was big and fluffy, the collards were mostly perfectly formed leaves and there’s my new friend, dill. But I also got a little bonus this week: an heirloom tomato plant start!
Hello, lil’ darlin’. It was a bit awkward driving home because I insisted on holding the plant in my hand. I was afraid the herky-jerky nature of rush hour traffic would be too much for the lil feller. It’s a dicey thing to get too attached to a young plant because there’s oh-s0-much that can go wrong before I’ll get my hands on some homegrown tomatoes. But I’m a big girl, I can take it.
This will be an experiment because the CSA actually don’t know which plant grew which kind of tomato. Could be little cherry tomatoes or a giant beefsteak, even a Purple Cherokee, I have no idea. I’m just going to try to keep it alive long enough to find out.
The first hurdle is over: I got it in the ground in a timely fashion. It’s early March which is almost late in Tucson for tomatoes. They only have a small window of time where they’re comfortable here before the heat makes them stop pollinating for the summer. You can still keep them around, chop them down a little after the monsoon rains of July and then get another chance in the fall. It’s amazing how fast they can grow when the temperatures are just right.
Any tomato I’ve planted in April never stood a chance (at least in my hands). Many local gardeners will actually set out plants in February and then keep some kind of insulation, such as Wall O Water towers, to protect them from any late frosts (hope those worked during our freak late snowstorm!) But now is a very decent time. As long as it grows fast. And as long as I keep it watered just enough.
Here’s the rest of my raised garden so far.
I’ve been growing a cool-season Mesclun mix (Farmer’s Market Blend from Botanical Interests) thats been doing really well despite my absolute laziest approach to gardening to date. Just scattered some seeds back in November and thinned them half-heartedly once. Thanks to our relatively wet winter, I didn’t even have to water ’em much.
So they’re way more crowded in there than they ‘should’ be. But I just keep cutting some leaves for lettuce and they keep looking happy. Didn’t even cover them during the hard freezes. I harvested all the decent leaves before the first one, thinking the little plants were goners (but too lazy to like *cover* them or anything). But after temperatures dipping below 19 degrees, they were still lookin’ good the next morning.
The leaves are all so fluffy and happy. Let’s see, there’s Tango, Royal Oak Leaf, Red Salad Bowl, Black Seeded Simpson, Grand Rapids TBR and Red Sails. Haven’t even heard of half those varieties before. I just know they make good eatin’. I still have lots of planting to do: chilis and other pepper plants and some herbs like BASIL! Mmmm, can’t wait for the basil. And I always want to grow a whole farm’s worth of veggies, but we’re in a new house so I’m still figuring out my garden plan.
Luckily for us, the previous owners left this raised bed behind. A raised bed made from a refrigerator.
And I tell you what, a refrigerator makes a sweet place to grow a garden. It’s insulated, plenty deep enough, great drainage and you’re not gonna get any Bermuda grass poking through the bottom (Bermuda grass, the bane of my existence). It must have cost a pretty penny to add so much soil in there. But it’s great black soil with a crumbly, fluffy texture. The previous owners placed it in the north east corner of the backyard next to the wall – which is nicely located to catch lots of early morning sunlight but then get some relief from the afternoon sun. So I’m going to try to make the most of that space. Though I’m still fantasizing about adding some plots in the ground around it. Though whether they’d be raised beds, sheet mulched or double dug remains to be seen.
Ok, I’m obviously not going deep into cooking this week. That’s how I get this time of year – everywhere I go my eyes are drawn to little stars of white or lavendar, big swaths of wild daisies or frothy clouds of yellow coreopsis flowers dancing above their silver mounding leaves. Yards that were full of clay or gray-green are decked out in their finest garden-party finery. And again, thanks to the previous owners (wherever you are, thank you!) we have a little wildflower meadow of our own for a few weeks.
Cheerful little reminders to drink in these fleeting moments of beauty while you can.
But I can’t completely stay away from recipes and what not, so here are some cool ones we enjoyed this week:
- I cooked up an Indian dinner party to feed a little crowd featuring Chicken Tikka Masala– but with coconut milk instead of cream since one of our friends is lactose-intolerant. Holy cow. This recipe is a revelation and I may never go back to the heavy cream version again! (I just wouldn’t bake the chicken breasts so long in that first step) Served with a lentils and greens dish from the CSA newsletter (by Kusuma Rao) with that lovely Swiss chard and a HUGE batch of turmeric rice with peas – (apparently cooking 4 cups of basmati rice will feed a literal army. We had some at almost every dinner for the rest of the week!)
- Coconut Chicken with Greens (using the kale) – served with leftover turmeric rice. The Stonesoup is a great Aussie blog that focuses on healthy, flavorful meals made fast and with about 5 ingredients. Great stuff to have in your weeknight arsenal!
- More leftovers (lentils and turmeric rice!) with sauteed collard greens.
- Saint Patrick’s Day Special – An oldie but a goodie – Corned Beef and Cabbage. This was made easier with Whole Foods’ pre-brined and marinated 3-lb corned beef package. The recipe is from a real New York Irish Catholic grandma. And there’s lots of rules that I didn’t follow to a T. I used dill with the buttered potatoes because of course I had a bunch (heh, see what I did there?) And I included carrots. I’m sorry! I know that’s a big no-no. But they were there, calling to me. And, you know, it’s been a while since King Billy and all. Maybe this can be the start of a new era of peace between Protestants and Catholics! In any case, it was gooooood.
- Finally a good old sausage, white bean and mustard greens soup to use up the last of the produce before I start again tomorrow on the next stage of my CSA adventure. Get this, for the broth I used a mixture of some beef-flavored vegetarian broth (unseasoned) with some of the leftover Corned Beef and Cabbage broth (very very very seasoned). Added a little of each until I liked the taste and boy howdy, that was good.
The rest of you in the milder parts of the country – have a beautiful happy spring – preferably outdoors! The rest of you, may the sun grace your face as soon as possible.