26 June 2010

Cluttering the house: obnoxious sofa


I have a weak spot for overly-stylized Victorian furniture. So, when I walked into a vintage/antique shop and saw this sofa with its gaudy turquoise-and-gold brocade pattern, gold frame, and claw feet, I knew I had to buy it. It's obviously not from the 19th century, but it's a fairly nice replica. It needs some steam cleaning but is otherwise in great condition. I'm pretty thrilled to be replacing our current hand-me-down plaid couch.

Even Bam Bam is impressed.

Signs of plant life: garden update

Since my worm bin is still not ready to harvest, I bought some complete organic fertilizer to try to resuscitate some of my crops. I also pruned the most diseased-looking leaves from my tomato and bush bean plants.

The bean leaves seem to be recovering quite nicely, but the tomato plant's leaves are still somewhat sickly, though it is producing healthy-looking fruit.

This is the second of my three tomato plants. I'm not sure what's going on here. The plant seems to be stuck in a stunted mode, and its leaves are rather yellow. The pathetic little basil transplant I bought, on the other hand, is now amazingly lush. It's bigger than the tomato plant!

I'm also growing pickling cucumbers surrounded by a ring of dill. On the right is my bin of lettuce and carrots. The lettuce has been harvested several times and is still looking healthy, despite the wretched heat of the last two weeks.

I'm quite excited about the strawberry plant. Last week, I went outside in the morning, and it looked as if it had melted. I watered like crazy, and that must have worked because the leaves recovered beautifully and several strawberries are ripening. The pot on the right is filled with a bush cucumber plant, radishes, and red-leaf lettuce. All look good (for now).

You can see half of my carrot and chive pot and tomato pot in this picture (the lettuce bin is in the background), but I mostly wanted to point out the potato and onion pots. The potato plants were among the most vigorous of my crops. They have flowered and are now wilting, which is supposed to be a sign that it's time to harvest potatoes. But, when I dug around in the dirt, I felt nothing. I'm a bit puzzled, but I'm going to continue to water for a couple more weeks before stopping to let the dirt dry out. The onions (in the foreground, planted with marigolds) are also starting to wilt, so I will need to dig around to determine their size as well.

The herbs are looking good, for the most part. I pruned some brown leaves from the parsley (far left), which I think is struggling in the heat. The oregano, thyme, and cilantro all look vibrant and healthy. I transplanted some dill - you can see it in the background, peeking out between the cilantro pot and the thyme. After I purchased it, I read that dill does not like to be transplanted, and, believe me, it shows. So, I also started some dill from seed.

I'm also growing batches of radishes in various pots. Some have bolted, but most look good. My pepper plant (which I forgot to photograph) finally seems to be growing. I think the fertilizer helped.

17 June 2010

Playing with food: fresh lettuce and first-time canning projects

Although some of my plants are looking a bit sickly, the lettuce is holding up remarkably well, considering the hot, humid weather. I think I'll keep planting it throughout the summer and into the fall.

In addition to harvesting more lettuce, I finally tried canning, after reading several books about it and taking a canning workshop. I decided to make strawberry jam and dill pickles, both which took me much of Sunday. Like a moron, I used the wrong side of the jar lifter, which I only realized when the plastic handles (which I thought were the jar-lifting grips) fell off in the pot, becoming irreparably warped in the process. I also spilled boiling water on myself at least 4 times and ran out of brine, forcing me to quickly make a new batch.

Still, I was mighty proud of the finished products. I haven't tried the pickles yet, since I want them to sit in the brine for a couple weeks. The jam, however, was amazingly good, though perhaps a bit on the sweet side.

While I didn't save money on making my own jam, I certainly did with the pickles. At Headhouse Farmer's Market I bought 15 pickling cucumbers for $5. I used 11 of them, which yielded 3 quarts of pickles. I purchased 2 quarts of strawberries (also at Headhouse) for $13, and they yielded 2 and 1/2 pints of jam. Next time, I'll go to a Pick-Your-Own farm for strawberries -- I hear there are some great spots both near Philly and in Jersey.

Signs of plant life: declining veggies

Many of my veggies seem to be taking a turn for the worse. I don't know if it's the heat, my (lack of) watering skills, or bad compost, but my tomato leaves are turning yellow, the pepper plant hasn't grown an inch in a month, cilantro is looking paltry and yellowed, and the bean leaves have brown splotches all over them.

16 June 2010

Playing with food: Pound cake

I decided to make pound cake since it seemed a fairly straightforward recipe (I used Mark Bittman's), but I didn't have cake flour on hand. So, I mixed a bit of cornstarch with all-purpose flour, since that is supposed to soften the flour. I also halved the sugar. The result was very tasty, but it lacked the soft consistency of pound cake. Instead, it was rather firm and very crumbly. Next time, I'll buy some cake flour and try again.

Still, I brought it into work, and everyone happily ate it up.

12 June 2010

Of compost and canning

As soon as I woke up this morning, I drove to Fairmount Recycling Center to pick up a bucket of compost. Although I have a worm bin, the little fellas are still working on eating through my grub. So, I decided to take advantage of the free compost offered to Philly locals. I couldn't wait to get home to heap piles onto my containers. The compost was rich and crumbly, though I was dismayed when a triple-A battery fell out of one of my piles. I hope that doesn't mean that the whole batch is contaminated with horrible chemicals. Philly's litter is pretty out of control, so I shouldn't be surprised that the available compost comprised more than just organic materials.

After gardening for a bit, I biked over to a canning class taught by Marisa of Food in Jars, an inspiring and informative blog about the world of canning. It was a fun class, and everyone went home with a 1/2-pint jar of glorious strawberry jam. I'm excited to give canning a try on my own. But I'm even more excited to bust open that jar and spread its contents on freshly-baked bread.

01 June 2010

Signs of Plant Life: So far, so good

Most of my plants seem to be holding up pretty well. I've already harvested lettuce and plenty of parsley, thyme, and oregano. I also planted some more veggies and herbs: bush beans, bell peppers, chives, cucumbers, and dill have now joined the party.

In the foreground (l - r) are onions (growing with marigolds, which are not holding up) and potatoes, whose plants are growing like crazy.
In the middle ground are lettuce and a tomato plant.
Barely visible, in the back row, are more tomatoes, peppers, and beans (still only seeds hiding under soil).

Signs of tomato life! See it??

Lush herbs. From l - r: parsley, oregano, thyme, cilantro (planted from seed, so still sparse), dill (my most recent transplant acquisition)

A strawberry plant and some garlic flank a container housing red-leaf lettuce and cucumbers (the bush variety)

The beautiful signs of strawberry life