Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hot town, summer in the suburb! (back of my neck gettin' dirty and "pretty")

Sergio, braving the carpeted cat bed.
Kaci prefers the the cool flat expanse of the coffee table.
It's warm out there, folks. At least it is in Massachusetts.

The cats aren't too crazy about the heat and spend their days trying to stay as comfortable as possible, experimenting with various surfaces and laying on their backs in front of the fan when it's on.

My garden, on the other hand, is completely loving this weather. The heat has been especially kind to the tomatoes.

Last year, you may remember, I paid homage to my vegetable garden. This year, I continue to be wonderstruck by the simple daily changes in this rectangle of goodness, and I couldn't hold back from sharing how things are shaping up thus far.

Here is our first-ever crop in a small raspberry patch I've been tending to for almost two years. I was starting to give up on it when it just exploded in red sweetness this year! The fruits seem to ripen hourly.

Last year, I moved our mint to a section by the house because it was valiantly attempting to take over the garden.


Believe it or not, this is chocolate mint. It tastes like an Andes Candies.

Here's sage (a perennial, I discovered!) that I transplanted along with the two types of mint. 

 I planted a variety of tomatoes this year, all of which shouldn't take too long to ripen. (The cherries have already started!) I used to order beautiful heirloom seedlings in the mail, but they needed a longer summer than we typically get here. So now I shoot for tomatoes that have a shorter growing season.

Just yesterday, I pruned all the tomato plants, as they were getting out of control. I don't know a whole lot about pruning, so I just basically go by instinct. I was told a few years back that if you don't prune them, all their growing energy mainly goes into the leaves and stems rather than into the fruit itself.
Speckled Romans

Either Speckled Romans or Romas...

Either Speckled Romans or Romas...

Romas ... Already have one close to ripe!

Sungold. Impossibly sweet! If you ever want to start a small garden, this is a great variety that will give you instant results. I love the way they grow like grapes!

These had a fancy name, but I can't recall it. I call them Little Reds. 

There's a great product in garden stores that helps keep your tomatoes growing in the cages. It looks like a spool of thick green ribbon, but it's velcro. You just cut off a bit and then velcro the stem to the cage so that the plant doesn't sprawl across the ground. You can reuse these year after year. I kept losing them, though. Just this morning, it occurred to me that I could keep them on the fence when I was done using them, and have them ready for next year.

The last of the sugar snap peas. We have been eating these like they're going out of style. Just trim the strings off, put them in a steamer basket, and let them steam for just a minute or two. Then, if you're feeling fancy, put them in a bowl with a tiny bit of toasted sesame oil and salt. 

As the peas start to leave us, the string beans are emerging. How cute is that thing? It's like a string bean ultrasound.

Cabbage. Does it get any more artistic? I mean, look at the way that thing grows! Gorgeous! Thanks to my sister-in-law Ida for gifting me with four cabbage plants -- something I had never tried growing before. (That's why it's good to have gardening buddies. They expand your horizons.)

Kale alert! If you want to start your own garden or a small container garden, kale is one of the easiest things to grow. And it LOVES the cold, so you'll be harvesting it well into the fall. I tried three kinds this year.

I should mention here that when we first dug up the garden and put the fence around, we put chicken wire about a foot and a half under the ground. It was a pain, truly, but well worth it since we now have a family of groundhogs who eyes our garden hopefully. One of them (when it was still small enough) squeaked through the space where the gate opens and had a fun time inside. In fact, both s/he and a baby bunny got in at the same time  -- who are friends, I swear. They're always hanging out together -- and demolished our lettuce and some of the peas. They didn't touch the curly kale or lacinato kale, but made sweet love to the purple kale. Who knew?

Curly kale! One of two patches of it we have, because you can never have enough of this stuff. (The Thai Basil to the left, is not as hardy as it's been in the past. Usually it becomes a monstrous shrub. The leaves are delicious with green curry.)

"Nom, nom, nom," said the hungry groundhog.

Lacinato Kale, also called Dinosaur Kale due (I believe) to its ressemblance to dinosaur skin. (We are overrun with dinosaurs in Framingham, so I KNOW.)

Some of the red-speckled lettuce that survived groundhogpalooza.     

Swiss Chard. Some of the prettiest stuff on the planet. I want to do a painting of Swiss Chard.

Believe it or not, this is a Brussel Sprout plant. I got four tiny plants ($1 each!) back in April as a fun experiment. They're doing great so far!

These are Chioggia Beets. When you slice them, they have a gorgeous red and white striped bullseye throughout. I love how the tops peek out of the ground. It's so cute, I can't stand it. 

Next is the massive, prehistoric rhubarb, which originally came from my grandparents' house. I gave away half of the root to my brother- and sister-in-law this spring, and the thing has STILL spread. This is, by far, Kaci's favorite part of the garden.

And you may have noticed our new hummingbird feeder, given to us by Peg, my mother-in-law. Below is a better view. We have a feeder closer to the house as well. Hummingbird feeders are such great and cheap entertainment. Often the hummingbirds will come when I'm in the garden, reading, writing, or weeding. You'll hear what sounds like an extra large bee, and when you look up you see a tiny, green, glistening little hummingbird, politely dipping into the red plastic flower and then taking off into the sky about a minute later when it is done. (The attached red ribbon helps attract the birds to the feeder. They love red.) To make your own solution, just heat some sugar in water until the sugar is dissolved. Sugar - water; 1:4. So 1/4 cup sugar, for example, and 1 cup water. Just replace it every few days.

And a garden isn't a garden without basil. Mmmm...

We have quite a few pepper plants, both hot and sweet. I forget the names of most of them, but here they are regardless. :)

Green pepper, I think.

Pepperoncini! I got these for Ryan, who goes nuts for them pickled. As to who is going to pickle them, stay tuned...

Ryan's not an eggplant guy, but I always plant a lot of it anyway. They are so gorgeous. Look at this little one, just poking its head out!

And you have to have cucumbers. I just got one kind of plant, and found a cucumber over a foot long this morning! I forgot to take a picture of it, but it's so indecent looking that it's just as well. Here is a less sizable one on the vine.

I planted tons and tons of nasturtium all around the perimeter of the garden. The groundhogs LOVE nasturtium,  and wiped them out from two sides of the garden. We put in a (mild) electric fence which has discouraged them from ravaging all the remaining prettiness. Groundhogs tend to stick very close by their burrows, as they lack speed for getting back quickly. (As Ryan so aptly put it, it's like watching an undulating small carpet run across your lawn.) Thus, they ignored the other two sides because they were too far away for comfort.

Both the flowers and leaves of the nasturtium are edible. They have a light peppery taste to them, reminiscent of radishes, lending themselves beautifully as an accent to a fresh salad.

I have beautiful marigolds planted throughout the garden, as they are a natural pest deterrant.

And here is the overall view of this most happy of places .

Groundhog/Rabbit view. (I just planted some new lettuce and arugula in the bare patch in the foreground.)

So that's the garden so far. Stay tuned for later posts when more things ripen!

P.S. SSW is now on If you could click on this link and then click on the "boost" button, it would help substantially in getting more visibility to this blog. I'm told you can go one once a day and boost it. And if you're up for sharing any thoughts, it would be great to get some comments (hopefully favorable!) added below it. The more boosts and comments, the better the visibility online. Thank you!


  1. Wow - what a beautiful garden!

  2. How gorgeous! I'm sure you love being out in your garden, and even better when you start harvesting. I'm curious - what do you do with your mint? I buy mint occasionally, but after making gin & tonic or flavoring my water, I'm at a loss. A groundhog and a bunny who are friends sounds like the makings of an animated series. Could there be anything cuter? I'm surprised by the looks of the Brussels sprouts plant! It totally looks like collard greens.

    1. The harvest is the super fun part, Cadry, you're right!

      The mint, actually, is GREAT in homemade lemonade. Someone at work also used pieces of mint in a bowl of cut-up watermelon, and it added a wonderfully unexpected accent to the watermelon -- made it taste even better. Every now and then I come across a recipe that calls for it, but I don't use it as much as, say, basil. Funny - we make gin and tonics all summer, but we never thought to put mint in them. I'll have to work on that tonight.

      It's so funny with the groundhog and bunny. Both are babies and they just seem to draw comfort by eating the grass near each other. They never snuggle or anything. They just hang together. The other day, I saw the groundhog mom (BIG!) and bunny mom or dad hanging out together too. Maybe it's playdate thing?

      They DO look like collard greens, don't they? Do they sell brussels sprouts at your farmers markets in the fall? They've recently sold them on the stalk at ours and it looks like an infected sword. (They take all the leaves off.) Not very attractive but SO much yummier fresh like that.

      I still can't believe I'm going to get to meet you in May! :)

    2. I will try mint in my lemonade. That sounds very refreshing!

      I like to think that it's a gopher/bunny play date. Too funny!

      They sell Brussels sprouts at the farmers market in the fall. I enjoy getting them that way! Those big stalks always remind me of an alien's spine, but an infected sword works too!

      I'm so excited to meet you in May! David has been referring to Vida Vegan Con as the reunion of people I've never met. I'd say that's about right! It's going to be a great time!

  3. Oh my goodness, what a beautiful garden! And I had no clue that chocolate mint existed like that--so cool.

    1. Thank you, Bobbie! I hadn't heard of that mint either, until I saw it at our local nursery a couple of years ago and took a little taste. I couldn't believe it was real. If you ever come through here, stop by and I can give you some plants. The stuff spreads FAST.