Finally! Phew!

There’s something really amazing about the day that you actually start planting the garden.

I have this sense of – I dunno – relief? I feel like yelling, “FINALLY!”

And then doing a little happy dance.

I can admit it – I say a little prayer of thanks and sing a little song of thanksgiving to God for this incredible blessing of dirt to plant in.

So – Denise – you asked about John’s tomato trellis system. Here’s a sort of closer look at a panel he added to the line-up yesterday.

It’s three tall fence stakes and a panel of cattle fencing. These one he secured the fencing on with zip ties. (My husband LOVES zip ties!) That’s it. It works fabulously.

This year we’ve got 62 feet of tomato trellis. We’ve got 32 tomato plants in the ground along these 62 feet of trellis. We plant on one side of the trellis with tomatoes, and on the other side I’ll add things like chives and basil and maybe some marigolds – all of which are great companions to tomatoes.

We’re growing Cherry tomatoes, Cherokee Purple, Roman, Brandywine, Beefsteak, Legend, Siletz, and Romas. A nice blend of both determinate and indeterminate, early, moderate, and longer maturing varieties.

:sigh:

I can’t wait until that first tomato comes in from the garden!

Today we also got planted:

A variety of lettuces on the underside of the green bean trellis. The first planting of the blue lake green beans are on the “outside” of the trellis, too.

A variety of radishes. John decided to mix it up a bit – literally – and broadcast these together on the next segment of this green bean trellis. (And yes, we do staple the seed packages to the frame. We’re getting old – it helps us remember what’s where! )

Beets were next. We’re out of John’s mind-blowingly amazing pickled beets. It’s SO time for a good harvest of beets!

This shot gives you a better idea of how the lettuces, radishes, and beets were laid out:

Along the back and side of the fence are two varieties of Peas:

…and…

You can sort of see where they are here:

John’s standing next to the potato condo, and then to the right of where he’s at you can see the envelope for the Cascade Bush Snap Peas. The Oregon Surgar Pod Peas are planted along the fencing to the right.

And then about 8 feet of turnips:

It’s a pretty sweet thing to look across the yard and actually see things planted in the garden!

(Impressive fencing job, huh?)

All-in-all, a pretty productive day.

The girls sure enjoyed the snippets of sunshine, too.

So did Pepper!

Hope your Memorial Day was – and continues to be – filled with blessings.

Tomato Plant Sale Today!

Yep! It’s time!

Time to plant the tomatoes!

People ask us all the time – what’s the secret? Why are your tomatoes so gorgeous? How do you know when to plant them? What do you do to make them that bountiful?

We have a few secrets – and we don’t mind sharing.

Start with really good tomato starts.

We’ve sourced them many places over the years, but we’ve been happiest with those that are grown from seed organically and started in a greenhouse that is unheated. They’re heartier – better able to handle the wacky Oregon weather.

We’ve been so fortunate to partner with a local master gardener who was willing to utilize our recycled pots and her greenhouse space to get these starts going for us.

They’re gorgeous plants! I’m so excited to get them in the ground!

Get them in the ground at the right time.

In theory, it seems like you really ought to be able to get your tomatoes in the ground by early to mid-May, right? Um, no. Not in our corner of Oregon! Our goal is to get them in the ground over Memorial Day Weekend. Any later – and well, it’s just not a happy result. Any earlier – there’s a good chance you’ll lose most (if not all) of your starts to frost.

It’s important to make sure they are situated so that they get LOTS of direct sunlight. They will not thrive without it.

Compost, compost, compost!

We add organic material (leaves in the fall, chicken coop litter in the winter, etc.) to the garden plots all through the year. A week ago John took the tiller out and rototilled the garden plots. The soil is fabulous.

Now that the soil is prepared, we’ll get our tomato plants (all 32 of ’em – 4 of each of the varieties we’re selling) in the ground, sprinkle around each of the plants with a little bit of DE, put down a layer of newspaper or brown paper bags, and then heavily (6 to 8 inches) compost on top of the paper.

Most years we end up buying a load of compost available commercially for that final layer of compost. It’s worth every penny for the end-result yields on our garden.

Water from the roots.

We use soaker hoses – and oftentimes will bury them below the compost layer (on top of the paper layer above). This means that we don’t have to use as much water, the leaves and fruit on the plants won’t suffer as much damage or disease, and we water much less frequently.

Just in case you didn’t know – watering a nearly ripe tomato directly can make them crack – bad. If you want fruit that will stay on the vine until they are utterly ripe and undeniably mouth-wateringly delicious – water from the roots!

Fertilize.

Here’s the thing – we believe in organics – i.e., Miracle Grow is from the pit of hell! We use fish emulsion, compost, compost tea, etc. You CAN over fertilize – more is not always better. Follow the directions and you’ll be glad you did.

Trellis, stake, cage – something!

John has used cattle fencing (available at Home Depot) to fashion some pretty awesome trellises for our garden. They last years and years and years. We love ours. Just as soon as the tomato plants are ready to go in the ground, the trellis system goes up, the plants go in the ground, and then they get tied to the trellis.

Tomato plants that are trellised/staked/caged and tied will grow beautifully. They love the extra stability. They will reach for the sky given the opportunity. We’ve had tomato plants that have grown easily 8 to 10 feet tall given appropriate support.

We make sure to go out about once a week and tie new growth to the trellis. I go to Home Depot and pick up the fluorescent pink flagging tape (non-adhesive) and use it so that I can see where I’ve tied as I go.

And that’s pretty much it. It’s not terribly complicated. Yes, it does take planning and some effort.

I’m so excited to get the garden going! We’ll be out in the yard today getting the new fencing up, the tomato trellising up, and tomato plants in the ground.

Come get some tomato starts for your garden, too!

Dina’s Tex-Mex Stew

I’ve been very, very busy lately.

Longing for a good home-made soup or stew.

Too many meals that have been a grab of something out of the fridge as I’m racing out the door.

I don’t like that.

What I do like is this: Tex-Mex Stew.

Just what I needed this day – a chance to throw together a pot of yummy stew while I wait for my girl to get home from college tonight!

I probably should have gotten a shot of all of the ingredients corralled up – but I didn’t even think of doing that until now – so – yeah, didn’t happen! 🙂

Let me just start by saying this: use a big stockpot. At least 8 quart. Really. I hate it when I start making soup in a pot that’s too small and then I’ve got to transfer everything into a bigger pot and it’s such a hassle. So – got it? Make sure the pot is big enough. And you should know: this makes enough for dinner for the family with some leftovers to boot. If you don’t want that much: cut the quantities in half!

All that being said – I thinly slice ribbons of sweet onion, and then sauté them in a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a large stockpot over medium-high heat.

Next, add some sliced celery. I like celery – a lot – and believe in using as much of the leaves as possible. If that bugs you, then adjust accordingly.

Now add in the ground beef, making sure to break it up until it’s a pretty fine consistency as it browns.

You might think this is a little bit wacky – but believe me, it’s fabulous. You’ll thank me later for this next step.

Add taco seasoning mix, ranch dressing mix to the meat mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined.

Doesn’t it smell amazing?!

(Normally I wouldn’t be semi-brain dead and gotten the order of adding things in mixed up – not that it’s the end of the world or anything – but if you print out the recipe and then compare my photos – you’ll note a bit of a disparity in the order of stuff. Sorry – I’m tired!)

Now add in the minced garlic, making certain to keep it from scorching.

Next I added the carrots. I want them to get a bit of a brown before going on to the next thing…

As you may recall, we can our own beans here. Love ’em. Will never go back to the store bought variety. SO much better. This would be a great opportunity to use a jar of mixed beans, or use smaller jars of a variety of beans. But – if you’re feeling kinda lazy (like I am today), then just pick a variety you like and throw them in. This time I used red beans.

A little note about one of the ingredients here. I’m allergic to bell peppers. Don’t know why – but they blister the heck out of my mouth. BUT… I can handle fire roasted canned peppers – go figure! And not only can I handle, I kinda love ’em! I particularly love the red and yellow mixed variety. What’s not to love?

Once most of the moisture in the bottom of the pan has been absorbed/cooked off, add diced tomatoes and the rough chopped fire roasted peppers. Use the juice from the tomatoes to deglaze the pan, making sure to loosen up any bits that have adhered to the bottom of the pan.

I use home-canned chicken stock and typically a quart of it is gonna do you. But every now and then I like this a bit thinner and will add a bit more. And – I can’t extol the virtues of tomato juice enough. It’s GREAT for stuff like this, or pasta casseroles, etc. You’ve got some in your pantry, right?

Add chicken stock and about half of the can of tomato juice, stirring to make certain everything is well incorporated and nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan

Another ingredient I have a little love affair going on with here:

You may not know it – but you need this stuff. Yes, it’s worth the work to find it. Just get it, you’ll thank me later.

Add in chipotle chili powder and chili powder, adding more or less to your preference.

Turn heat to medium-low and add in corn, zucchini, and rice. Make sure to stir the rice in thoroughly. Allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, taking care to scrape the bottom to prevent the rice from sticking and scorching.

Now – all you need to do is eat some of this fabulousness.

YUM!

Hurry up and get home, Jessica! Soup’s on!