Sunday, March 22, 2009

Using up those parsnips

I still have a bunch of parsnips in the garden from last season. It was the first time I'd planted them, and I had no idea how many we would eat. Apparently not as many as I planted. So I'm looking for some good recipes so I can use them up before it's time to plant this year's crop. Oh, wait... it's already time to plant this year's crop. Ah, well, I'm behind schedule as usual.

Anyway... Last night I made the best mashed potatoes I've ever made--and they weren't just mashed potatoes. They were mashed potatoes and parsnips, loaded with a bunch of unhealthy stuff like bacon and cheese. YUM. You can find the recipe for loaded mashed potatoes and parsnips at I substituted chicken broth for the milk, since I don't like milk much, and they were still wonderful.

While I was searching for parsnip recipes, I found a few more that sounded good, but I haven't tried them yet.

Happy parsnip cooking!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Another Hit and Run

Today's gardening adventure: another hit and run! (That's a Def Leppard reference--for those of you who weren't paying attention in the 80s--as well as an unfortunate fact.) We live on a corner. The road curves sharply, there's no streetlight to reveal the curve at night, and there's no stop sign to slow people down before they hit it. So, every few years, someone (usually drunk) misses the curve and ends up in our yard (usually in the wee hours of the morning). We must've replaced at least 10 arborvitae over the years, along with several other shrubs and innumerable landscape timbers. This morning I woke up to what sounded like really loud thunder. Instead, it was a hit and run driver crashing into the shed and running over the shrubbery. Take a look:

That's a telephone box in the foreground. The tall green shrub to the left is a mature arborvitae, fortunate enough to still be standing. The blank space to the right used to have about 5 more just like it, but they were mowed down. See them lying on their sides?

Here's a closeup of the carnage:
That big wooden thing is the bottom of our shed.

Speaking of the poor defenseless shed, here it is, just after the accident at o'dark thirty:

I think it looked much better standing upright, don't you?

The sheriff's deputy called us this afternoon to report that the vehicle had been identified -- a stolen van found abandoned by whomever took the joyride through our hedge. If they ever catch him, I'd like to bury him at the base of the remaining arborvitae. It seems only fitting.

Monday, March 09, 2009

March Madness, and I Don't Mean Basketball

It’s March now in the Pacific Northwest (um, as well as everywhere else in the world, if you want to get all particular about it), but it’s certainly not very spring-like, I must say. I was actually feeling bad last week about the fact I still hadn’t pruned my roses (I’ve been nursing a shoulder injury the last few weeks and have been kind of out of commission) (AGAIN), when suddenly, wham!, we got snowed on up here again.

The downside: This just provides more fodder for the “global warming” snarkers, who tend to be melodramatically literal when it comes to that phrase.

The upside: Now I look like the smart one for not having sliced and diced the roses!
Despite the freaky weather, it’s actually time to start planting some stuff outside, as wholly unappealing as THAT sounds this morning. (Current temperature: 36 degrees. Forecasted high for the day: 36 degrees. Current mood: Fine, you know what? I'm going back to bed. Forecasted mood for the day: Wake me up in April. IF YOU DARE.)

Yep, according to my expert resources, those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest can begin sowing the following seeds outside:
  • Many types of lettuce and other leafy greens (unless you, like me, find leafy greens wholly uncooperative)
  • Asparagus (shoot (ha!), I really wanted to plant asparagus this year and haven’t moved on it -- can I plant it as late as the first weekend in April, fellow PNW gardeners?)
  • Beets (ew)
  • Carrots (some year I will try them in pots)
  • Peas (yay! yay! yay!)
  • Parsnips (delicious and strange)
  • Potatoes (could be fun)
  • Radishes (overrated)
  • Turnips (underrated)
  • Chives (pretty)
  • Cilantro (pukey)
  • Parsley (munchable)
Of the things on this list, peas are the one item I have had success with in my garden in the past, which means they are a safe bet for all gardeners, rookie or pro. (The theory here being that if *I* can make them grow and produce food, so too can anyone, including your local one-armed half-blind monkey).

Chives and parsley are also two favorites of mine. I almost never eat either one, but I love letting my chives to go flower because the flowers are so pretty (see photo above), and parsley is nice to munch on when I’m out watering things in the summer. Refreshing and chompy.

Cilantro I’m allergic to (hence the description of it as "pukey"), but my husband loves it so maybe I should humor him and put some in this year.


Early spring is also a good time to pick up new fruit trees and get them planted -- just make sure the danger of frost is past, or that you’ve got plans on how to protect your yard noobs from extremely cold nights (reminder: it snowed several inches in Seattle last April, so don’t think it’s all over just because you’ve turned another calendar page!). We planted blueberries in our yard two springs ago right about this time, and both bushes are really thriving.It's a real thrill getting to pick and eat my own blueberries, and I'm eager to see how the raspberry I planted last year will do this year as well.

Berries -- man, hurry UP, summertime!!

Also doable this March: trim back your woody herbs (lavender, rosemary, and sage, in particular), fertilize trees and shrubs (including rhodies, which I really need to do soon), start prepping your veggie beds for planting next month, and when you’re done working outside, go back inside and start sowing your tomato seeds in containers to get them ready to go outdoors in about 6-8 weeks. If you’ve never planted golden/yellow cherry tomatoes before, I urge you to give them a shot this year -- almost as delicious as berries, and just about as sweet too!!

Still having trouble getting yourself motivated to work outside in the rain, snow, sleet, and hail? Dudes, I hear you. In that case, maybe you need to spend another couple of weeks looking at seed catalogs and day-dreaming instead. To that end, allow me to present you with this list of the
Top 10 Most Productive Crops for the Pacific Northwest (from Mother Earth News):
  1. Pole snap bean
  2. Snow/snap pea
  3. Potato
  4. Garlic
  5. Cherry tomato
  6. Summer squash
  7. Chard
  8. Lettuce
  9. Onion
  10. Carrot
It’s a list I can believe in, having had a lot of success with a number of items on this list, and very very little success with a number of items NOT on this list. I’d love to try beans and chard this year too, actually, but I’m not entirely sure what I’d do with them? You cook both before eating, right? Anybody have any good bean or chard recipes? Or bean AND chard recipes? Hit me with 'em in comments!

Spring ho!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A smaller, more practical Yard, Garden & Patio Show

Your intrepid correspondent checked out the Yard, Garden & Patio Show last weekend here in Portland, but then your intrepid correspondent got sick, so she is (er, I mean *I am*) just now getting around to posting about it. Hey, if you want prompt, go to CNN. They get paid for their reporting.

The Yard, Garden & Patio show is the unofficial kickoff of gardening season here in Portland. It's held at the Oregon Convention Center and features exhibits from landscapers, nurseries, and other purveyors of fine garden-related products. Several of the landscapers create mammoth landscapes for the show, usually including waterfalls and full-scale gardens. One year they even created a small lake in the middle of the exhibit hall, complete with a canoe bobbing next to a dock. Seriously. This year, though, the show was smaller and less ostentatious. Apparently the lousy state of the economy is taking its toll.

There were still some big landscape displays, but there were fewer, smaller, and more in keeping with the current back-to-frugality movement. Several included vegetables mixed in with the usual landscape plants, a nice way to show that edibles can be attractive as well as functional. Here's an example:
Edibles as bedding plants
Of course, most of these veggies are planted way too close together, but they do look pretty.

A couple of the landscape displays also featured chickens, which are becoming very popular here in Portland. Here's a small veggie garden display, complete with egg-y looking chicken coop (and chickens):
Egg-y chicken coop and veggie garden display

I especially appreciate these trends, as I think anyone who has even a little bit of sun in their yard can grow a few vegetables, even if they live in one of those we're-better-than-you subdivisions that ban sensible things like clotheslines and vegetable gardens. Go ahead... tuck that chard in between your barberries. Slip some basil under the roses. Your snooty neighbors won't recognize them as edible, since they probably think a vegetable's natural habitat is the produce section at Whole Foods. If you're lucky, they'll think you're the first on the block to discover the latest trendy bedding plant. If they ask you what it is, give 'em the Latin name, which will boost your snob factor and make them even more envious. It's so new it doesn't even have a common name yet! I must have Joe the Gardener plant 50 of them. Now.

OK, OK, I digressed again, didn't I? Maybe I should call this blog Rainy Day Digressions. Anyway... back to the Yard, Garden & Patio Show. There were some notable absences this year (besides the giant lake): Fred Meyer wasn't there, and neither was Metro or my favorite orchid vendor from Hawaii. There were others missing too, though I can't remember exactly which ones. The wine section, however, was larger than usual. About 2 rows of booths were devoted to wineries pouring (and selling) their wares. The economy sucks? Drink your troubles away! I was pleasantly surprised to see that the big displays used fewer bedding plants, which in past years have been tossed in the dumpster after the show (and in some cases removed from the dumpster by Yours Truly). I asked one of the landscapers, and he assured me that they weren't throwing any plants away this year. While that puts a crimp in my dumpster-diving, I'm glad to see the vendors being less wasteful. Maybe this bad economy will have a few side benefits. Maybe.

Finally, there were several garden artists displaying their wares, which included some wonderfully quirky things. For example, check out punk rocker propane cannister dude:
Punk rocker propane dude

Or these seriously cool boots planted with sedums:
Sedums 'n boots New use for old boots

So what did I buy? Not much - a gold-hued sedum and a purple oxalis. I was frugal before frugal was cool.