Zucchini Time

Apparently zucchini are the easiest vegetables to grow ever, so I guess I should knock my pride-o-meter down a notch.  Still, it feels really great to go up to the garden and pick things that make a dinner everyone raves about.  I had something to do with growing that!  It’s take and bake, and I helped!  Grin.

Most people know, when you get seriously big zucchini you stuff them.  I pretty much planted my squash for that very purpose and have been waiting for some to get big enough to really make a feast. Wow!  I had my eye on two beauties, and totally over looked the other three growing in less conspicuous places.  Let’s just say, we had a nice harvest on Saturday.

Summer brings on some bounty from the garden.

For a bit of perspective, here is a photo of the 7 year old with two of the zucchini we harvested. Sharing with my daughter the wonder of growing food was a strong reason for starting the Laughing Place.  Each time we climb those stairs we find something new and wonderful!

The kiddo was pretty impressed with these!

Check out the food section of the blog to see what we did with the beautiful vegetables we harvested.

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Imposter in the Garden

Since this was my first year attempting a real vegetable garden, and since the preparations took so long that I worried I would NEVER get to plant anything, I began most of my crops as transplants. I bought the starter plants at various local nurseries, Home Depot, and even a hardware store. Each of the plants has done extremely well, and we are beginning to have nice harvests of cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, and some yellow squash.

I have learned something, though, since planting all these little starters. You can never trust a label. Take, for instance, my yellow squash. The variety I love most to eat is summer squash. They look like pale green or yellow flying saucers, and taste buttery and succulent. As I purchased my corn seedlings, bell pepper plants, and zucchini, I added just one summer squash. I remember them taking a lot of room in the garden and being prodigious producers. So,  just one should be a great start, with more next year from seed.  Or so I thought.

The summer squash bloomed early, with big yellow blooms covering most of the vine. Along came shiny yellow ends, pushing the blooms away from the stalks.  I waited for them to begin to fatten, rounding into the patty pan shape I remembered. They continued to grow, and began to look suspiciously like crook necks. I waited, maybe they will puff out at the last. Nope, these were imposters!  No round patty pans for me, these were undeniably crook neck squash.

Oh well, really crook necks are fine by me.  I waited until they looked harvest ready. About the size of those I find in the grocery store. Two beauties awaited me. One had real heft to it. The other…was…hollow. I sliced this one down the middle to find that an earwig was inside, feasting away unaware that his dinner had been removed from the garden.  I figured as long as we get half the harvest it is all good. Next time I cut a couple of squash, same thing – one for me, one for the earwigs. Sigh.

No wonder it weighs nothing.

We made a beautiful vegetable lasagna, using the yellow crook necks and the zucchini freshly picked from our garden. But, while the zucchini were moist and solid and tasty, the yellow squash was woody and seemed to be lacking in water content. Still, if it is growing in my garden, and if it can be used in a dish that still tastes good, I am going to allow it to grow.

Today rang the death knell for the poor yellow squash though. The leaves of the plant have begun to look spotty, and a powdery mildew had formed on the surfaces. Rather than let it spread to the other plants in the raised bed where the squash is located, I pulled it out. There were no more blooms and the last two squash had been harvested. Good-bye imposter squash!

Powdery mildew - ugh!

What’s with all the blue plastic?

Upper level of the garden

I have been taking photos of the garden almost from the first shovel of dirt to create the terraces, and they all have one thing in common, blue plastic.  Why?, you might ask. Are we growing secret crops undercover, for profit or fun?
Nope. Remember the itinerant fellows we initially  hired to create the terraces on our hill?  They got really enthusiastic, and one afternoon I came home to find they had created one too many levels – leaving the concrete footings to a fence at the top of the hill exposed and ready to cause a mini landslide.
Our next door neighbors looked over the fence and ran to get us some tarps. A storm was rolling in and we could all envision the mud and chain link rushing down the hill toward our house. Then things went pear shaped with the workers and I fired them. But that fence was still hanging by a thread at the top of the hill.  What to do?
In came a former neighbor, and handyman, who constructed a complete fence, made us a new gate, and took out the chain link fence. We didn’t have enough money left to put in a retaining wall at the top, so he simply stapled the tarps to the fence to hold up that top level. Functionally, it is  just fine.  Aesthetically, well, it’s an eye sore.
We will take that plastic down and put up a final level – next year.  I went through all this trauma in order to have a vegetable garden, and dang it! that is what I have. Until the season is over, and the plants have gone to compost, we will leave things as they are.  Blue plastic and all.

Starting with herbs

The Laughing Place might seem like the whim of a deranged city dweller with too much money and time on her hands.  If you have been following along with me, you know that neither assumption is true. I work full time, am finishing a PhD, am raising a young child, and volunteer at both her school and our church. We have a good income by many standards, but new tires for the old car are an expense we must dig deep to accommodate.

My housemate and I own a 1500 square foot tract house in a large metropolitan area in Southern California.  Though our corner lot comprises slightly more ground than that of our nearest neighbors’, that plot of land amounts to just .15 of an acre.  Our house takes up most of that land, leaving a front yard that slopes toward the house, and a back yard that features concrete and brick patios, and includes a high slope above a cinder block wall.  Until I undertook our “little” garden project, the hill was inaccessible, covered with weeds, and home to both rats and voles.  Nope, we don’t live in a dump, just a nice suburban neighborhood near a canyon that produces a lot of wild life that no one wants to see on Animal Planet.

One day I looked at an old wheelbarrow and saw a place to garden.  Just a little spot to put something I could grow that we could eat. We have flowers and other beautiful plants in our courtyard and a small artful raised garden in back, things to feed the soul.

St. Francis garden, he came with the house...

But the little bit of land we have on this Earth was not producing food.  And my memories of the gardens of my grandfather and dad began to call to me.  Maybe a broken wheelbarrow could bring some of that good feeling to my own home.

Herbs seemed like a great choice.  The plants are typically small and easy to grow.  Raise your hand if you have NEVER had a little pot of parsley on the windowsill at least once in your life.  Thought not. Every grocery store in our area has containers of herbs for sale, beginning as early as the latter part of February.

I found a spot in view from our kitchen window, cleared some weeds, hoped there would be enough sun to grow better things, and got my trowel. Add some dirt, a few 2 inch herb starts, the rusting wheelbarrow with the broken axle, and VOILA! Annie’s Herb Garden was born.

Old wheelbarrows never die...

Well, yeah, the area needs some more weeding, I was going for FOOD here folks. And it worked!  Cilantro for homemade salsa, thyme for seasoning pork, oregano for soup, chives for chive and cheddar biscuits.  My teeny little crops made life a little nicer.  I felt connected to what we were eating in a new way, and I felt that our ground was doing more than surrounding the house. And I felt like a gardener.