Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Category: From Farm to Table Page 1 of 3

The Dog Days of Summer

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What a lovely summer we are having this year! Except a few hot days here and there, we are experiencing in general much cooler temperature and a lot more rainfall than previous years. Bright morning sun and afternoon clouds kept plants and wildlife happy. It is seriously the best year for gardens and lawn since we moved into the house.

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Besides abundant flowers from returning perennials, we got many blooms from this year’s planting as well. Remember the Chinese Snowball Viburnum I planted near the patio planters? It did not fail to impress:

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Next to the Snowball Viburnum I planted a patch of garden Cosmos. Raised from seeds they were pretty pathetic when planted, but look at them now! Honestly I was just short of perennials and tried to fill the new patio garden with random annuals. But these cosmos really exceeded my expectations.

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And I had sunflowers for the first time! Planted by visiting birds they just came up one day on their own. I had no idea what they were, but decided to keep them out of curiosity. What a nice surprise! They are looooved by bees.

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Speaking of birds, we seeded a patch of grass in the backyard early summer which accidentally created a buffet for a family of American Robins. Apparently when you lay down compost on the ground and water a lot, earthworms come to the surface. And these robins just feast on the worms.

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Every time the sun sets Slav waters the newly seeded area. In a few minutes these two robins will show up for dinner. I think they can sense the moisture in the air. We had a lot of fun watching them hunting worms: they carefully listen to the movement under the soil, then snap at worms risen just below the soil surface.

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Once they get a bit of a worm they pull it out of the soil completely, crop it into pieces, then fly away with a mouth full of worm to enjoy in their nest.

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Besides worms they also steal my strawberries…but that is it. Interestingly they do not eat any grass seeds, nor any of my vegetables. Robins are steak-and-dessert kind of bird I guess.

What has been stealing our vegetable harvest is the Cottontail Gang. Look at this cute monster waiting for us to go inside so he/she can start supper:

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This is the first summer I got bunnies in my backyard – my dogs must have made a deal with these adorable little thieves to exchange my lettuce for their poop. Bunny poops are like M&M to my dogs – they just could not resist licking the last drop clean.

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Compared to the neighborhood bunny gang, the resident squirrels carry themselves with dignity. I keep some bird seeds and occasional sunflower heads in an old bird bath in the front yard. The resident squirrel couple show up in the mornings and eat quietly by themselves. They live in a big tree across the street and have been challenging our squirrel-proof bird feeder every winter. So far I am winning. So I understand their urge of getting fat during summer months and I am OK to lend a hand.

As our garden matures and expands there are more and more wildlife visiting. We saw many more native bees, a greater diversity of birds, and increased number of rabbits and squirrels hanging around. It is interesting to see wildlife crossing path and foraging next to each other. Like birds eating from the bird feeder at the same time when the squirrels are around, and they hide in the same tree when we come out of the front door. Lately, a couple bunnies visit in our front yard every morning, often during the time the squirrel family eats from the bird bath. They sometimes get as close as a couple feet to each other. It is so nice to watch them peacefully eating their respective meals side by side.

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Despite the bunny interest the garden is doing well too! Above is a shot of my cucumber plant about a week ago, and now it has climbed to the top of the trellis. I have already harvested a few rounds of radish and greens. And 75 heads of garlic came out just after July 4th:

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Last week I cut my herb garden back and gave all the trimmings to my co-workers. My car smelled like mint for days.

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We continue harvesting greens while beans, beets and zucchini come to season:

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Starting mid-July there has been a steady steam of onions, tomato, cucumber, and more zucchini…

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And even more zucchini…

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As you can see we are flooded with zucchini this year – they seemed to really like my garden so one plant is usually enough for two of us. However this year we planted four. I have donated lettuce and zucchini to food pantry twice, sent some to our neighbors, and made many, many meals with them:

Chinese zucchini pancake:

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Beef zucchini dumplings:

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Zucchini bread (with chocolate chips!)

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I even worked some into the sheet cake I baked form Slav. Zucchini is an amazing flour substitute and we can barely tell the difference!

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In the dog days of summer Slav and I celebrated our seventh anniversary. Seven years being married, and fourteen years being friends. I know this man well, but I am still discovering more. For example, I always thought he liked tiramisu and have been making it every year for our anniversary, only to learn that he prefers cheesecake…Oops. But we still enjoyed the cake which might be the only thing we had this summer without zucchini in it!

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How is your summer going?

Home Stay + First Week in the Garden

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One silver lining of staying at home, is that I finally got to watch the garden waking up this Spring. Spring has come slowly but steadily, with alternating sunshine and snow/rain showers. And our trees and perennials seem to be loving it.

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One pleasant surprise: all my helleborus came back! They were planted last summer and did not look so hot last season. A couple of them died back to the ground. But a couple weeks ago, all nine of nine helleborus sprouted new shoots, and looked strong and healthy.

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I’ve not seen any buds, but I am just happy that they are putting down their roots.

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The 2020 Spring garden to-do

With the warm weather I managed to spend a few hours every day in the garden. This might be the year that I actually stay on top of the Spring garden tasks! Who knows? Maybe I can actually sit down and enjoy the garden in Summer… I started with a long to-do list, including planting more trees and climbing vines, hardscaping the backyard, expanding the berry garden, and finally whipping the vegetable garden into shape. With the lock-down it looked like I would be trekking along just fine.

One big thing I checked off the list this week, was to prepare the vegetable garden for Spring planting.

1. Reducing the size of the vegetable garden

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We started with five 4′ x 16′ beds in 2018 and added two more last year. However, after last summer of growing, I realized that adding the two new beds were a bad decision.

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For example, the bed I added in front of the original field was too close to our patio, leaving a narrow path in between. We started having problem backing the trailer into the backyard. As of the bed behind the original field, it was way too close to two of the fruit trees.

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Honestly, we we could get away with just five beds. So I decided to reverse these two beds back to lawn and mulched space, respectively.

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I have pushed the boundary of the veggie bed back last Fall. So this week I started by removing soil from the first bed. As you could see here, the soil here was higher than the lawn space in front of it. And this is all rich soil from last year’s vegetable gardening:

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I scraped the soil to match the lawn space then reseeded grass.

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Our nights are still rather cold, so I covered the newly seeded lawn with Harvest guard after watering them in:

 

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It might not be obvious, but this 4′ x 16′ space generated six wheelbarrows of soil. I did not want to ever put soil into trash, especially good soil thanks to the compost we mixed in last Fall.  So I transferred all six barrows into my newly built patio planters.

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I also leveled the last vegetable bed by moving the soil here to the planters. Here was what the space looked like before:

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As you can see, the original boundary was right next to the trunks of the fruit trees.

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It was a mess where this last bed met the fence too.

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From the picture below you can see how much taller the soil on the last bed was above the mulched space behind. This space could really use some retaining system.

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I pulled up the old lumber that held back the soil here and scrapped 8 inches of top soil off this space. All the top soil went to the patio planters as well.

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It took another 6 trips of wheelbarrow to level this bed. After that I stacked the lumber back (they are pressure treated) to create a retaining wall. They are not anchored into the ground, but it looked like they do not need to be.

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Then the space is covered by mulch. The young fruit trees will benefit from not having grass growing on top of their roots, since frequent watering required by lawn space does not promote healthy root structures for trees.

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When I mulch, I always start by sheet mulching with cardboard, then follow with a thick layer of wood chips. Sheet mulching really works in terms of suppressing weeds. Just remember to remove any tape and staples. This approach also encourages the proliferation of earthworms and other beneficial insects, which build healthy soil.

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The before:

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The much cleaner after:

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By pushing the retaining blocks uphill, the messy corner next to the fence is now much cleaner as well

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And the other bird killed by this stone? All the patio planters were filled almost to the top:

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2. Moving compost bins

After mulching the area I moved our compost bins here. It just makes more sense to have them next to where most of the green waste will be generated.

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I like how the composted bins filled the void between the two fruit trees. It brings more symmetry to the veggie garden area.

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3. Planting strawberries

With the patio planter most filled with soil, I topped them off with some garden soil I had on hand:

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Then I planted strawberries! We grew these seascape strawberries last summer for the first time, and they were such a hit. They are so sweet and lovely that I purchased another batch this Spring. The only problem was that the rabbits loved them just as much. Even our dogs could not keep the bunnies out of the yard. So I transplanted last year’s strawberry plants into the big patio planter:

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Then planted the new batch into the two smaller planters. Take that, bunnies!

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The new strawberry plants came as bare-root, so it will take a while for them to leaf out. But trust me, they are all snuggled up in there and will start producing as soon as the weather warms up.

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We also ordered some garden trellises this Spring. I tried them in the planters and loved the look. It will be nice to grow flowering vines up these trellises this summer.

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I put in some screws inside the planter to store the most frequently used gardening tools. It is nice to have them close yet out of weather.

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4. Planting asparagus

Besides the strawberries, we also welcomed asparagus to our vegetable garden. Slav loves asparagus and it is one of the few keto-friendly vegetables. I also liked the idea of having more perennial vegetables.

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We had one asparagus from last year as a trial plant. I gave it zero attention, and it thrived in our native soil. For the new asparagus, I followed the instruction and planted the bare-root plants deep into trenches.

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We will not be harvest from these new plants this year, and probably only lightly next Spring. But these asparagus will produce for us for decades and only getting stronger and more productive. Cannot wait!

5. The 2020 veggie garden plans

Last I used scrape lumber to separate the paths from garden beds. I have been using wood chip mulch on the entire garden, including both in the gardening beds and on the paths in between. But this year, I will use compost as mulch in the veggie beds and keep the mulch only on the paths.

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The first bed houses the strawberries we planted two years ago, which have naturalized in this garden bed. They produce smaller strawberries than the seascape variety, but also very sweet and tasty.

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Last Fall I created a chive border for this bed by dividing one chive – just one! The little seedlings all survived and started shooting up fast. We do not eat lots of chives, but I hope that they can attract more pollinators to the vegetable garden.

The second bed is occupied by asparagus. The third and fourth bed are reserved for tomato, pepper, cucumber, and beans:

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I planted garlic in the fifth and now the last veggie bed last fall, using the cloves from my own harvest last year! They have come up looking healthy. 🙂

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We usually harvest garlic here around July 4th. So this bed will be available for planting warm season vegetables after. I’d like to try squashes and melons. Wish me luck!

6. Winter sowing

That brings us to seed starting! I’ve never done that before – for things I cannot get transplants, I always just directly sow into the garden. But this year I want to try things that scares me. And today is for sowing seeds. I’ve heard good things about winter sowing. It sounds super easy and it was. I was able to sow creeping thyme, cutting flowers, cold weather greens including lettuces, spinach, and cabbage, and even some warm weather plants such as beans in an hour.

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Are you preparing a vegetable garden? Have you been working in the garden during lock-down? I am thankful for the hope and relaxation gardening provides this Spring. Be good and be well. We will get through this.

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A Quick Green Onion Stir Fry

I have to give myself a pat on the back because I finally finished the new employee training today! As a scientific researcher, especially one who does animal research, there are tons of training I have to receive when I start working in a new institute. Even through I have been handling mice/rats for 15 years, done thousands of surgeries, and received similar training from institutes I worked for in the past. During the last three work days, I had to sit through dozens of online classes and go through quizzes!

Starting tomorrow, I will be taking bus to work, which hopefully will make my day much easier. What I will be taking is an express bus that have no stop between the park-and-ride next to my home and my work, and it will be running on the highway I used to drive to work. So it will take exactly the same time as driving!

I manage to start cooking again this week. I am the veggie cook in the family. So when I cook dinner, we eat mostly vegetables. I think it is important! Besides, we enrolled veggie and mushroom share from a local CSA so there has been much veggie every week. We HAVE to cook 2~3 different veggies every meal to not waste any.

For example, this week, we got a few turnips, four zucchini, four cucumber, half a dozen green pepper, two boxes cherry tomato, two heads of different cabbage, two eggplants, a dozen medium-size potato, some chard, and garlic and green onions. We have been cooking 2~3 different kinds of veggies every night! If you have not tried CSA program, you really should check it out, see if there is any near you. And here are why we love it:

  1. The veggies are more tasty: No matter what we get, leafy greens, or root vegetables, they are in season and properly ripen. The ones we buy from grocery stores are often picked prematurely, so they do not taste nearly as good. my veggies even make my car smell good! Once you taste a locally grown, picked at the right time, CSA cabbage, trust me, you will never want to eat store cabbage again!
  2. The veggies are fresh: The veggies we get are picked on the same day, so even being ripen, they last the entire week without looking sad.
  3. These veggies are grown organically. Regardless if the CSA farm is certified organic (ours is not because the paperwork is too much), the growing practice is usually very organic.
  4. The farms you get CSA veggies from are usually small and family owned. The farm we get our mushrooms from has been there for five generations! We would like to support local economy and small business owners like these farms.
  5. They are cheaper than grocery store veggies! Our veggies shares are for family of four (we prefer eating a lot so we got a double share) is 600 for the entire summer, that means for 20 weeks from June to October, we barely need to go to grocery store for veggies. Now we just go to Costco once a week for milk, cheese, meat and fruit, which cut down our grocery bill a lot. When we did vegetable shopping in grocery stores, we definitely pay more than 30 bucks per week, and we do not get nearly as much.
  6. Buying local cut down food waste in long-distance transportation. So you are not only cutting down your own grocery bill, but also save for the society.
  7. Getting CSA veggie is a great way of socializing with people in your local community! We talk to other CSA members and the farm owners all the time. And every time we get some valuable information about our community, food culture, events, and gardening pointers. Slav even helped out to write grants for some farms back in NC. He did it for free to help out because that particular CSA has a really good cause and we made some really good friends there.
  8. And more importantly, getting CSA shares force us to eat a lot more veggie than we otherwise would! We purposely ordered a double share so we eat more veggies, and it has worked so well for us. We are not vegetarian by any means – when we cook cabbage, potato and green peppers on grill, you bet there is a sausage link or two next to them. But we eat primarily vegetables, and I think it made us healthier.
  9. Last but not the least, CSA subscription forces us to try new recipes. Because you might get something you do not normally buy from the store. At the beginning of the season we got so much turnips, so we tried stew, cold salad, and grilled turnip, and they were so good! This week we got more than enough green onion, so I came up with this:

A green onion + mushroom stir-fry

1. Gathering green onion and mushroom (I got several kinds from our CSA mushroom share so I just throw all of them together regardless strains). Green onion really shrinks after cooking so you want to use lots of them. I also have a few pieces of BBQ pork left from Chinese take-out (they always give toooo much meat), so I decided to throw them in there too.

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Speaking of adding meat in stir-fries, it was the main way my family consumed meat when I grew up. We rarely eat a whole chicken or a big piece of ham cooked by themselves. A little bit meat in stir-dries, such as a little bit ground pork, a couple slices of sausage or shredded leftover rotisserie chicken – can add so much flavor and make the whole dish richer, yet the veggies still dominates the taste of the dish.

2. Cutting everything to bite size:

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3. Hot pan, cold oil, throwing green onions in and frying for a minute:

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4. Adding the mushrooms:

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and cooking a couple minutes until the mushroom softens. You can see how much the green onion has shrank:

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5. Throwing in the cooked meat and turn off the heat. Notice that I have not added any salt at this point. If the cooked meat is plain (which is never the case nowadays, everything is soooo salty!), add a bit salt to taste. The BBQ pork I used was salty and so I did not add any spice to the dish.

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It should go really well with some steamed rice. Enjoy!

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