Archive for June, 2009

Apartment Therapy

Apartment Therapy Site

Oh boy – we’ve done it now.  The esteemed national online magazine and community Apartment Therapy has selected my garden and story to be showcased in their current “My Great Outdoors 2009” feature.  What an honor!

I submitted my garden a few weeks ago, but I never expected to be selected.  I’ve won a small prize: an Apartment Therapy book and an Apartment Therapy t-shirt.  No big trips to Vegas, here, but I’m thrilled nonetheless.

If you have a minute to stop by and give my garden a “comment,” they are counted daily by Apartment Therapy and tallied above my submission.  You can visit my garden’s page here:  http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/my-great-outdoors-2009/my-great-outdoors-kates-gift-of-a-garden-088040.


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There it is!  My first eggplant bloom!  Next the purple flower will blossom more fully and then the fruit will begin to emerge.

What’s mind-blowing about this little flower is that while its forthcoming fruit will be delish, it is, in fact, a pretty toxic plant on its own.  Just like tomatoes, eggplants belong to the Nightshade family.  And this family isn’t joking around with the “night” thing.  In fact, both belladonna and mandrake are close relatives – and, of course, lethal.

Yep.  Every part of my eggplant is toxic.  (Except, of course, for those ripened fruits.)  But toxic doesn’t mean bad – it just means don’t eat it unless you like out-of-body experiences.  For example, its toxicity has been used as an antidote to poisonous mushrooms (Duke & Ayensu 1985).

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “Uhm, Kate. When am I going to be so fortunate as to have an eggplant nearby when I eat my next batch of poisonous shrooms.  Really.  Come on.  Give me something I can use, here.”

Well, alright.  How about hemorrhoids?  Or cracked nips?  Been there?  Well, you can bruise eggplant leaves, add a bit of vinegar and create a poultice for cracked nipples, abscesses and ‘rhoids.  But the list goes on!

The leaves are narcotic and toxic.  So, if you boil down the leaves and/or roots, you get what is known as a decoction.  This can be applied to discharging sores and internal hemorrhages.  Also, a soothing and emollient poultice can be whipped up from the leaves for the treatment of burns, abscesses, cold sores.

In summary, how badass is the eggplant!?

And just in case you were ready to lean over to a friend and say, “Yeah – but who’s the moron who called it an EGGplant.  It is a large purple globe!  What a loser.”  The fact is that eggplants do grow in a small, white oblong shape that approximates an egg.  But big agriculture dictates what Americans eat.  And most Americans have never seen this variety of eggplant, so we whisper nasty things about the “idiots” who name stuff.

Here she is, America:

Photo credit: © 2000 Rosie Lerner, Purdue University

Photo credit: © 2000 Rosie Lerner, Purdue University

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I was playing in my garden this afternoon and had to take a picture of these BEAUTIFUL yellow cucumber flowers that have appeared over the past few days.

Cuke flowers

My cukes are “burpless hyrbids,” which means they were created with a milder flavor than most American varieties and therefore ease digestion of the fruits.  In addition, “burpless hybrids” are supposed to contain much less of a burp-causing compound commonly found in those other varieties.  To read more on the studies conducted and the concept behind the now popular “burpless hybrids” available on the market, check out this report from North Carolina State University Horticultural Science Department.

And if you look at that photograph you’ll see that my storage onions have shot up!  They’re now standing tall at over one foot.

More playing in the garden (and reporting back to you!) later this week.  Also, look for my creative solution to the Beast issue.

Squirrel (Credits unavailable - please let me know if this is your photo and I will provide credits for you)

What will happen to our furry enemy!? Find out next week!

Relax & enjoy your Sunday!

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Ah, I love Ghostbusters.ghostbuster

Anyways, there’s a monster out there.  A monster so insane, so horrible, so freakin’ wild…that it dug a whole under my Romaine lettuce and left their little sprouts in ruins.  Dirt apparently flew everywhere because there was a bit of a mess.  Three nights running now.

I don’t know what it is, or what the hell it’s thinking taking out my little lechugas.  But here’s the thing – we’ve got to get rid of it.  Right?

There are a number of, ahem, natural methods for pest removal when one’s garden is disturbed by, well, nature.  If it’s a squirrel, our options are these:

1.  Place ammonia-soaked rags around the garden box

2.  Spray plants with hot pepper oil and water

3.  Put predator urine around the perminter of the garden box

4.  Shoot the squirrels with a pellet gun

That last one wasn’t from GardenGuides.com.  It was my sister’s idea.

Anyways, if it’s a bird – we have very different options.  Most notably, not involving Kate handling predators or their urine.

1.  Place plastic snakes around the garden

2.  Place blow-up owls above the garden

3.  Coat garden bed walls with Bird Tanglefoot – a sticky substance that will annoy them

4.  Shoot the birds with a pellet gun

I mean, I don’t know about you, but the pellet gun seems like the ethical thing to do – yes?

El Monstruo?

Oh, relax.  We’ll only use that as a last resort.  How organic would my garden be if I had to kill seven cute animals a week to sustain it?  I’m thinking we should try the scare tactics first.  It worked for Bush.

What do you think it is?  And what do you think I should do to get rid of it?

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What a week!  The onions have poked through and are now standing three or more inches tall, and both the Arugula and Romaine have sprouted into teensy weensy tufts of lettuce leaves.  I don’t think we’re quite ready for a salad, yet, but I’ll say this – my former pessimism may have been unfounded.  With all of the rain DC has gotten over the past 8 days, I haven’t had to worry about the hose (or lack thereof), carrying water, or wilty plants.  They’ve LOVED the storms – as is evidenced by the great amount of growth they accomplished this week.

Now, what  I could serve you is a big basil salad…

Alright, enough bragging – time to show you the money.

Sweet Basil Tearing It Up

Sweet Basil Tearing It Up

Arugula sprouts!

Arugula sprouts!

Onions are up and at 'em

Onions are up and at 'em

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So, admittedly, I have a slightly pessimistic view on my garden’s chances for success right now.  Part of me believes that these plants are not so much guaranteed food-producers, but more like contestants in a reality tv series determined to weed out the weaker plants until just one remains.  One that is so drought/disease/ignorance resistant that even I can’t kill it.

ClawedThese worries are not unfounded.  I’m ashamed to admit that there have been other attempts at fostering flora.  Past victims have included small palm trees, gerber daisies, calla lillies, and even one set of “lucky” bamboo shoots.  (They weren’t so lucky)  In any case, until I prove my killing streak to be a series of ridiculously coincidental events leading up to the revelation of my true green thumb, the plants will remain “The Contestants.”

Today’s spotlight falls on my favorite contestants – the tomato plants!  There are two of them – Brutus and Clawed.  Brutus (the mascot of my beloved’s alma mater), and Clawed (the mascot of my alma mater) needed their names because they are the same kind of tomato plant – “Better Boy.”  Clawed is pictured there on the left, and Brutus above and on the right.  Truth be told, I meant to grab two different kinds of plants, but I was fooled by some marketing materials at Lowe’s and thus, I have two “Better Boys.”   We’ll see, however, which proves to be the “better man” at the end of the growing season.

Both plants were given a nice spot on a corner lot in the bed yesterday.  I made sure to plant four marigolds in the adjoining squares, as it’s rumored that these “companion plants” are able to repel Manduca quinquemaculata –  the villainous Tomato Hornworm.  (Da duh DAAA!)  This insect, found throughout the United States, southern Canada, and northwestern Mexico are things of a gardener’s worst nightmares.  Tomato Hornworms (below on the right) crawl up to innocent tomato plants, schooch up the stalk and make a home on the underside of low hanging branches.  Actually, if you lean over and put your ear to the caterpillar (no, they won’t climb in and eat you – they’reTomato Hornworm actually kinda cute, resemble Marvin the Martian and are completely harmless to people), you can actually HEAR it crunching on your plant.  No, seriously.  How cool is that!?  And don’t they remind you of Marvin, too??

Marvin the MartianAnyways, they eat the leaves and divert the energy of the plant from tomato-producing to healing it’s bitten-off limbs.  Serious mameage resulting in no tomatoage.  The efficacy of the marigold thing has been called into question by many agricultural researchers, but I see no reason to tempt the Tomato Hornworm gods.  No sir.  (For the naysaying propaganda  with all of their silly “research” and “well-reasoned arguments,” click here)

And there you go – those are my tomato plants.  The “boys” if you will.  Please wish them well as both I, and the gifter of my garden, are voracious tomato-eaters.  (He even eats them like apples, though a little freaky to watch)

Finally, I wanted to show you the current layout of the garden.  As I said – I imagine each of my 18 squares (it’s a 6′ x 3′ garden bed) as little contestants on the reality show that hopefully, we’ll come to be addicted to (and thus, take care of with regularity…).  They’re each sure to bring their own drama into the fold (though hopefully NOT in the form of the Tomato Hornworm), and keep it interesting over the course of the growing season.

So, here it is.  Your 2009 Garden Playmates:

The Contestants

From left to right, starting with the top row, we have…

1 affable French Marigold (dwarf) plant, 1 demanding Ms. “Black Beauty” Zucchini plant, 1 laid back Straightneck Squash plant, 1 wild Maharani Cucumber plant (she’s from India, originally), 1 stocky Brutus plant (a “Better Boy” tomato), 1 equally-stocky Clawed plant (another “Better Boy” tomato)

4 sexy Romaine lettuce seeds, 4 saucy Arugula seeds, 16 secretive Yellow Stuttgarter onion bulbs, another set of 16 Yellow Stuttgarter onion bulbs, 1 cheerful Antigua Yellow  marigold, 1 chill Antigua Orange marigold

4 rambuncious Romaine seeds, 1 type-A Eggplant plant (unremarkably named “Black Beauty” again), 1 wild & crazy bell pepper plant, 1 elegant Provence Lavendar plant, and 1 intoxicatingly charming Sweet Basil plant

Frankly, with all of my pessimism, I’m having trouble “envisioning the harvest” as Master Gardeners like to encourage.  How about you?  (Honesty welcomed – always.)

Your 2009 Garden Playmates

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Kitchen Garden: High Yield Garden

It’ll look like this by harvest time, right!?

Today was the day!  The day to actually plant my plants!

It all started last week with a trip to Home Depot where we picked up some compost and plants.  Then we hit up The Garden District for some local and organic seeds, bulbs, and Marigold plants.  Next, my 6′ x 3′ cedar frame came on our anniversary last week in a big box and the putter-together of things in our house went at it the following day.  (The full story on why I even have this fun new garden can be found here – the short version is that someone loves me!)

That brings us to today.  We went to Lowe’s to get everything that was either overpriced at The Garden District (namely, compost), or unavailable at Home Depot (namely, the vermiculite).  Because I’ve subscribed to the super easy and organic Square Foot Gardening method for my first foray into gardening, the composition of the soil mixture was particularly important.  Square Foot Gardening is, essentially, an urban gardener’s ultimate solution to a lack of space and a desire to be super water/energy-efficient and productive.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to find the exact components that Mel (the founder and guru of all things Square Foot Gardening) suggested in his book, but I think I did alright winging it.

Humus & Manure
Sphagnum Peat MossOrganic Garden Soil

My soil composition for the 6′ x3′ cedar bed (about 8″ tall) turned out to be:

-3 cubic feet Organic Choice Garden Soil

-3 cubic feet vermiculite

-3 cubic feet peat moss

-.75 cubic feet humus & manure

Now, frankly, I’m still learning.  I couldn’t tell you today if this was a recipe for the magical soil I hope it is, or a tomato’s version of a cyanide cocktail.  So don’t go jotting this down like a recipe for exquiste dark chocolate brownies quite yet.  All I know is that I went to three stores in search of the components my book tells me you’re SUPPOSED to use.  And at one point today I was like, “If I don’t get this thing started, it’ll never happen!”  (To onlookers it may have appeared more like a spiritual meltdown in Aisle 15.  Fortunately, gardens are purported to be stress-reducers and meltdown-repellents.)

Thus, perfection was abandoned (sorry, Mel!), and gardening commenced.  Here is what she looked like today after several hours of hammering, screwing, drilling, mixing soils, sowing seeds, planting plants, and carrying (yes – carrying) large buckets of water down equally rickety and steep iron stairs:

09 Garden June 6

More on what I have in there and what my expectations are later…as well as the yet-to-be-revealed solution to my current state of hose-lessness.  🙂

And, if you want to know more about Square Foot Gardening, check out the YouTube introduction to the method below.

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