Garden Update

Things are growing!

My first potato seedlings in the tyvek planter I sewed.

Quite some time ago I planted a blue potato from the farmers market. Weeks went by, no sign of life (other than ants). Finally, last week, a little sprout poked its head through. Now, more & more keep popping up! Never having grown potatoes before, I was nervous about having anything actually grow. It didn’t help that I was using a farmer’s market potato & not a seed potato. I planted the whole thing; it had a few eyes on it. So my gardening friends, should I pinch off those super cute & smaller sprouts in favor of one?

My first snow peas!

This summer is also my first time growing peas of any kind! Well, I’ve got a few small & adorable snow peas growing. I’m very excited.

The first tomato blossoms of the year are growing on a mystery tomato plant.

Tomatoes! I had quite a few expired seed packs. I chucked them all into the same pot. Lo & behold, they grew! I’ve no idea what kind of tomato I’m going to get, but I’m very excited. While the plant is still small, there are tiny flowers blooming!

Now, some bad bad news. The bane of gardeners worldwide, pests! Damned aphids! All over my lovely, lovely, black cherry tomato plants. I have no picture to show you because I did not think to bring my camera into the war zone.

My first year balcony gardening I tried to pick off every bug. Fail. Then I decided that it was ok if I used natural pesticides, but I was too skimpy with adding my ingredients & too lax in my applications. Not this time. I chucked a bunch of neem oil, cayenne pepper & dish soap (what I hope are reasonably-large-yet-not-plant-harming quantities) into a bottle of water. I sprayed & sprayed my babies this evening. Tomorrow morning I’ll try & rinse some of it off so the leaves don’t get damaged in the sun. Here’s hoping this works before they get a chance to spread to my other pots- I’m gardening on even available surface & so have nowhere to move this infected pot.

In related news- & to end on a happier note- I got my first CSA share of the summer! It was very exciting & tasty. I’ve been eating well since I picked it up on Wednesday. Mmmmm, parsley. MMMMM, green garlic. Broccoli! It was a whole box full of greens. Bliss.


Make It Monday: Week Ten

This week I did some serious gardening, but alas I have no pictures. That’s because I gardened in a friend’s backyard. It was a small backyard, but whew! Ripped out a bunch of old things & planted a bunch of new things. I’m sunburned.

On the sewing front, I made a t-shirt! It’s my first fully finished t-shirt. I’m very proud. A previous attempt used cheap fabric & involved some very ripply hems. No good.

Cheeky Chuck helped me make my first fully finished t-shirt.

This one came out great. Plus, I got my pin cushion in the mail from the pin cushion swap. It’s a cute little rooster my swap mate named Cheeky Chuck. Chuck helped me make this shirt. I think the two of us did a good job!

On the cooking front, I tackled another thing I’ve been wanting to do for awhile. Ice cream. Some time ago I inherited my sister’s old ice cream maker. There was a reason she stopped using it. Disaster, every time. This time, I used a recipe that didn’t need an ice cream maker. It’s a pretty easy recipe & I’d recommend it to those of you who, like me, can’t or don’t eat dairy. The only thing is that the banana was a little stronger than I would have liked & the ice cream did have a slightly slimy texture, like bananas do. But, if conventional ice cream isn’t an option & it’s a sweltering 90F out (like it’s been this entire weekend), it’s well worth it. 

Slice & freeze two bananas & 1/2c berries (I used a little bit more than that). Then, blend them in a food processor. Place in the freezer for another 30 min & enjoy. Easy peasy. Just don’t over stuff your food processor like I did. Next time I’m going to try & replace the banana with melon, maybe a nice honeydew. Mmmmm.

And check out the original recipe. This woman is seriously enthusiastic.

The Ninth Make It Monday

For years and years I’ve been plagued by crafty, thieving, garden ninjas.

I may be exaggerating, but only a little.

I’ve only been gardening a few years & squirrels aren’t really intelligent. But it feels like my war with them has been waging for centuries (I just finished watching Game of Thrones, so it might be shadowing how I’m picturing this- but it is amusing imagining an army of squirrels in little helmets & swords & vanquishing them with dragon fire).

From the left: stevia, thyme, sage, rosemary

This year I shall defeat the little buggers with the mighty force of jute. Yes, good old burlap.

Yesterday I put jute in some of my planters. I’m hoping to deny the squirrels any portal of entry. This should also help retain moisture & keep that damned expensive, organic dirt from blowing away in the wind. And I hope those murderous squirrels scratch their paws on the stuff (I swear I usually love animals- I’m vegetarian!- but don’t come between me & my plants). It really has been a problem though. Years past I haven’t enjoyed a single tomato because those damned squirrels dig up the roots or bite into the unripe fruit.

While I was busy putting in some burlap, I was also planting my farmers market finds: stevia, sage, rosemary, thyme, mint & celosia (cockscomb) flowers.

Celosia flowers planted among lettuce.

I also came up with some new recipes. I bought purple asparagus at a farmers market & searched for a good recipe. None fit the bill, but the various ingredients used inspired me. So, lemon marinated purple asparagus sauteed until the lemon caramelized & topped with a dill yogurt sauce. I’ll post the recipe later. It was amazing. I cook a lot & it’s rare that I’ll say something I’ve made is amazing, but this was amazing.

Sauteed, lemon marinated asparagus topped with yogurt dill sauce & accompanied by a millet & tomato fry up in the background.

Another farmers market find were my first strawberries of the season. The bike ride home was bumpy, as in three speed-bumps-down-a-certain-residential-block bumpy (City of Chicago, please spend your money on more useful things- this wasn’t even near a school). So my berries got badly bruised. I made a strawberry pie, my first. It was alright, but I’m not sure pie is the best way to use strawberries. I’m glad my boyfriend is here to eat all the things I think are just so so. I won’t bother you with a picture of my not so pretty crumble top pie.

Finally, I’ve been participating in a Pin Cushion Swap. Tomorrow I’ll be mailing my finished cushion overseas to my trading partner in jolly old England. I’ll post full pictures of the first ever pin cushion that I’ve made once she receives it. I’m very excited. So, I leave you with a few mystery pictures.

Make It Monday- Two Months On

Two months on & I’m feeling pretty good about this project. It’s helped me maintain momentum with making things while making me feel better about the things I’ve created. Also, it’s really helped me improve my sewing skills & has gotten me back to doing some of the things I used to love (like making yogurt).

This week it helped me get back to making a dish I used to love: Thai Style Fried Rice (Quinoa). I was sick sometime ago & couldn’t eat anything too sweet, such as pineapple, which is one of the main ingredients. While I’ve been able to eat sugar for awhile now I just haven’t tried my hand at this dish again.

I am glad I made it. I even did it twice this week: once with rice & once with quinoa. Tasties! And I especially feel more accomplished considering I didn’t use a recipe but got it spot on.

That was the theme for this week: direction loose & pattern free.

Gussets! Gussets, gussets, gussets, sweet sweet gussets!

Coupling is an old show from the BBC that’s kind of like Friends, but funnier. My favorite character is Jeff, a sex-starved & obsessed man who has an unfortunate habit of saying whatever he’s thinking. In one episode he lists the words that make him think of sex. His list includes ‘gussets’. Like Jeff, gussets get me excited, except about sewing & not sex.

Why all the excitement about gussets? I sewed my first one ever & didn’t use a pattern or tutorial. Yeah, I’m feeling pretty hubristic.

Crotch shot: my first gusset

I’ve been wanting to make some bike pants for a few months, but have been too busy with other sewing projects. I used the leggings block from I’m not sure if I measured wrong, but the leggings were just too tight around the hips & too loose in the legs. So I looked at a pair of old yoga pants to see how the gusset was used, made a pattern freehand, inserted it & the pants fit like magic (alright, I did have to make some alterations after that).

It’s been a long time since I’ve improvised a sewing pattern & this one went very well. Hopefully, it will help give me the boost I need to start making my own patterns again- unless I get too distracted by the many commercial patterns I’ve been wanting to try out.

There were a few more projects did not require commercial patterns either.

My boyfriend used to have bleach blonde dreadlocks. They went scarily well with a old Bob Marley t-shirt of his- sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between the shirt & his hair. But then I cut off his dreads & this tattered old shirt just looked silly. So I made it into a bag. I didn’t expect it to be so large, but it does work well for groceries.

Finally, & very excitingly, tyvek planters. Oh yes, tyvek.

Unfilled tyvek potato bag with pockets on the sides.

Tyvek is supposed to be free of bpa & phthalates as well as safe for food & medical equipment. It holds liquids, but is breathable.

I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make an easy & safe potato pot. As potato plants grow you’re supposed to mound dirt up around the plant. A custom-made wooden box would be too complicated. Old tires would be hard to get ahold of & I don’t know if they’re non-toxic. A tyvek bag seems perfect.

I filled the bag about a 1/3 full of dirt & sowed my farmers’ market blue potato. I folded the sides of the bag down & will unfold them up as my plant grows & I shovel in more dirt.

Tyvek potato bag with pistachio shells & buckwheat hulls for mulch.

I got my tyvek from a case of tyvek lab coats. Last fall I needed a lab coat for one of my classes & found that a case of tyveks was cheaper than a cloth lab coat. The coats came with pockets, which I kept on the outside of the potato bag. Once I get enough soil in to unfold the bag, I’ll be able to plant small plants in the pockets.

This is my first time growing potatoes & I’m anxious to have them come out well. Any tips from you seasoned gardeners?

Oops, almost forgot. I finished another dress. I guess I did do something from a pattern this week: McCall’s 5094.

I started it weeks ago but was waiting for zippers to go on sale. I think I’ve got a minor obsession with polka dots this year. This is the third thing I’ve made from a polka dotted fabric since this spring.

Huzzah! I think this has been my most productive week so far. It’s amazing what you can do when your stress levels drop!

My First Radish

I love how radishes seem so unassuming & like they should be mild, but when you bite into them you can get a spicy shock.

Despite my love of radishes I’ve never grown them before. But yesterday I got a treat: I picked my very first radish from my garden. It was a tasty little thing with a mild zing.

Half of it I ate raw & the other half I added to a veggie saute that used the radish greens as well as some of the hardier lettuce from my garden. A little bit of toasted sesame seed oil, a little bit of balsamic vinegar. The recipe has potential, but I need to experiment with the ratios more.

I decided the radish was ready to be picked because the top of it was poking up out of the soil, but I didn’t look this up beforehand. Is this the right time to pick a radish? Do you have any tasty radish recipes to share? I’m envisioning a little army of radishes marching across my garden. There’s a flag bearer & a trumpet player. The little radish soldiers are all clad in black boots & saluting while they march. Such large quantities call for cooking.

Make It Mondays- One Month On

It’s Make It Mondays’ one month birthday! Like a new parent I will keep track of these unofficial holidays.

But unlike a new parent, I don’t have too much to say after one month. After all, the project can’t smile at me. But I can say that it has made me feel a little better. I’m generally feeling more motivated to make things & I’m noticing what I make.

Before, if I finally cooked something I had been dying to try for months or if I had worked in the garden, I would be happy at the time but not view it as an accomplishment. Instead, I would think of it as my lazy butt finally getting around to something I had meant to do sooner.

Sure, these things are not accomplishments in the same way that graduating from school or having a baby is an accomplishment, but small things count too. It’s like in a relationship: small things keep building up & if they go unaddressed it can create problems in a big way. If you don’t acknowledge that these little things you’re doing are accomplishments you end up feeling completely unproductive & like you’ve wasted your time. Instead, I can look back on the month & say “Hey, I did stuff! I was not a lump who just sat in bed eating ice cream with cookies & watching Netflix!” See, it’s much more satisfying & closer to reality. Because even though I did my fair share of Netflix watching, I cut back. I’m on my way to doing things that actually make me happy (a little bit of Netflix makes for a happy Mari, a lot of Netflix generally indicates a sad Mari).

It can be hard getting yourself out of a depressive funk & I feel like Make It Mondays are helping me do just that. Alleviating this depression is a big reason why I started Make It Mondays. But I realize I’ve never told you why I’m depressed. In less than a year I’ve lost three people I care about. On top of that my grandma is dying. Plus there’s the whole stress that most people have in regards to school & work because of how the economy & job market have been. It’s hard to feel stable & grounded when your income is in flux & when you constantly have people dying on you. That can make it hard to do things that you love, such as making things. Hence the whole Netflix instead of crafting. Make It Mondays have helped me replace escapist & mind-numbing activities with productive & mind stimulating ones.

I guess I did have a lot to say after all.

So, what did I do this week? I was stuck in that bad cycle of I want to be making things but I have so much studying to do. Many of you are probably familiar with this- nothing much of  either gets done. But I did manage to make a gluten-free & vegan deep dish pizza (sorry no pictures) that tasted awesome. I also got a good amount of gardening done.

I’m on my way to making a successful garden. I planted starters for Honey Melon Sage (which is amazing & an herb everyone should have) & collard greens. I sowed seeds for nasturtiums, calendula, basil, tomatillos, stupice tomatoes, okra, black eyed peas, bell peppers, oregano, and I think I may be forgetting something else.

All of these new seeds were sown indoors. All of my previous seeds were sown outside. Last year saw disastrous indoor seed starting, which is why this year has been all outdoors. However, the weather turned from warm & in the 80’s to cold & in the 40’s. Hopefully these indoor seeds will actually turn out OK & can replace any that failed outside.

You can’t see it that well (cloudy morning light), but some of those seeds are in paper towel rolls. Last year I saw online that some people would cut up paper towel tubes or use toilet paper tubes for their seed starting. It’s cheap & they’re biodegradable so you can plant the whole thing in the ground without disturbing the seedling’s roots.

Fingers crossed these new seedling grow well! Last year was the year of moldy paper rot pots. I’m hoping to not repeat that. Any tips on keep moisture high enough for the seeds but not so high as to encourage mold would be greatly appreciated.

Strawberries are the Most Seductive of Plants

Everyone has encountered that person, the one who makes you swoon with lust/love. The person who drives you wild just by being in the same room. The person who won’t give you the time of day.

Strawberries are the most seductive plants. They just wink at you with their innocently sexy red berries. They seem to call out to you, with the promise of a juicy nibble. They’re also supposed to be easy.

Every growing season I’m tempted by that siren plant called Strawberry. It whispers in my ear, ”Wouldn’t it be amazing to have me on the balcony? To skip out the back door & bite into a fresh berry?”

No, because Strawberry is a tease. She likes having me wrapped around her little stems, but she just doesn’t like to put out.

Three summers I’ve tried to grow strawberry plants. Every time it’s failed miserably. Last summer I even sternly told myself no. How much money had I wasted in the past on plants & containers & soil & compost & time? So last year, instead of wasting precious resources, I dreamt about growing strawberries all summer long. Years previous had seen plants just not produce or plants that would wither & die. And one year I bought plants online. Out of the dozen that arrived moldy, one or two were useable, until they died a week later.

Yesterday, that siren called to me again. I was unintentionally riding my bike past the garden center when I remembered, my beet seeds from a few years ago hadn’t sprouted well this year. How many months has it been since I’ve been lusting after the variety called bull’s blood? I veered into the parking lot, then made my way towards the seeds.

A short stop was required as I enviously stared at all the seedlings that would put my garden a month ahead from where it was. Yet I persevered- best not to became tempted by too many expensive things.

I found the seeds & scooped up my beets, looking around like Gollum. Such precious little seeds & such a precious little picture of those blood red beet greens.

Surely, now that I had what I came in for I would be on my merry. But what could it hurt to look at the other seeds? Oh, look, buy two packets from the Thompson & Morgan seed company & get one free. My, my, mignonette strawberries just happen to be one of the ones they’re offering for free. How tiny those berries look, how adorable, how- precious. I’ve been wanting to grow parsley & cilantro for quite some time now. Surely I ought to buy those- they are some of the herbs I use the most. And if it just happens that buying them will get me free strawberries, well, that’s not my fault is it? It certainly can’t be helped.

That hussy. She played me. Strawberry lured me in off the street & tricked me into buying her. So now, I’ve broken my vow of strawberry celibacy. Lord help me! It was free! How could I resist? No mere mortal could.

And so last night, in the dark, when I should have been studying for finals, I planted my new herb & beet seeds. But Strawberry, I’m hoping if I treat her real well she’ll finally at least give me a kiss. I planted her inside & I’m keeping her all to myself. There will be no putting her out in the cold, no risking those damned wiley squirrels digging up her precious little roots.

Help me dear readers, am I alone in having been suckered in by a harlot of a plant? Is there something you try to grow year after year without success? Do you have any strawberry container growing tips? Maybe that’s it. Strawberry just doesn’t like my containers. Should I get fancy tricked out pots that will self-water & are covered in bling? What do you think? While normally I abhor such things, Strawberry may just need her name spelled out in rhinestones.

The Great Garden Cleanup

My shame: the balcony before the Great Clean

I have no idea how I did it, but I cleaned up a lot of junk. My garden is on my wooden fire escape/balcony (apparently Chicagoans have forgotten all about the Great Fire). The majority of the space on the balcony (where one could put a chair, a tiny grill, or maybe a chair hammock with a tiny table for holding your drink when you’re not sipping it while enjoying the breeze and a good book) has been blockaded by a pile of junk. And it’s all garden junk. No hammocks that allow you to dream you’re in the tropics. Nope. No room for the boy’s grill. Just dirt & containers. Oh, and a cooking pot that’s been out there since I burned some food in it awhile back.

Inside, I’ve had a raised bed that I rescued from the alley. It’s been sitting next to my desk since last fall- one side filled with dirt & the other with gardening goods. I kept meaning to move it to its rightful place on the balcony, but just couldn’t bring myself to spend the time cleaning off the balcony.

I’m really bad at throwing things out- surely I can use it at some point in the future! Surely? Indubitably!

But last week I decided enough was enough. I threw out bags of stuff I won’t be using & really don’t want to haul around whenever I next move. This was all prompted by an exciting arrival- new seeds! Burgundy okra, purple black eyed peas, black cherry tomatoes, stupice tomatoes, Siberian kale, oriental giant spinach, red bunching onions, French breakfast radishes, some French name type of snow peas!

So I set to work with an insane (no idea where it came from) burst of energy & motivation. I even did laundry & some light cleaning in the bathroom & kitchen. Afterwards, I gave my boyfriend leave to call me SuperMari.

The tidy & amazing work of SuperMari: a clean balcony

I planted all of the seeds I got in somewhat tidy rows (although some ended up in unpictured containers). This was late last week. Today, I noticed that things had started to sprout! I’ve got some kale, radishes & okra coming up! Can you tell I’m excited? But don’t worry, I won’t bore you with several shots of blurry seedlings in vast fields of dirt.

Asian mesclun lettuce mix, one month after sowing & a little bit of thinning

Meanwhile, here’s what the lettuce I planted about a month ago looks like after a small thinning. I’m really torn: global warming is bad, but I love this weather! Let’s just hope the summer is not blistering hot & dry.

If you want info on where I got my seeds, continue reading.

For Christmas I got a gift certificate to Landreth Seed Company, purportedly the oldest seed house in America. They have a great selection of Heirloom seeds & a GORGEOUS catalog.

I meant to order seeds a log time ago, only problem was I couldn’t redeem my gift certificate. My work/school schedule meant it was almost impossible to call them during regular business hours. So I left a voicemail & sent them an e-mail after searching their site for instructions. Months went by & I got no answer. After my schedule opened up a bit more, I called them during regular business hours.Here’s the skinny for ordering from them with a gift certificate: during online checkout click the pay with check option & leave your certificate number in the comments. If your order goes over the certificate amount you can also leave your credit card number in the comments.

Why am I telling you all of this when much of my experience with them was negative? They do seem to be a genuinely good business & the time it took to get my seeds was incredible. I ordered on a Tuesday & got them by Thursday!

Only other thing is their delivery costs are expensive- About $12 if you order more than five packets of seeds, even though the USPS package I received listed the cost of postage around $5 (and I’m pretty sure the padded enveloped it was shipped in didn’t cost $7).

But, they ship fast, they have good quality seed & you’ll be supporting a small business that’s been struggling. And if you only order five packets of seeds the shipping is around $5, which is not bad.

The Second Make It Monday

The second week into the project & I’m having my doubts. Can I really keep this up every week? What about when finals time swings around? Perhaps during those times I can focus on making simpler things, like tackling a new recipe.

Won’t I get tired of making things for myself all the time? Since I was raised in a materialistic family, I probably won’t get bored too soon, but I also don’t want to accumulate too much. This might be a good excuse to start making things for others. I get very embarrassed when I look into my closet & then look into my boyfriend’s- I’ve got so much stuff already! How does he manage to survive with so little?

But, my closet is full of things I don’t wear. I find myself going back to the same old outfits, partly because it’s easier & comfortable, partly because it can be like visiting old friends (for re-experiencing the feeling that wearing a great outfit can give you), & partly because I feel stuck in a rut. Oh, that old shirt again- I haven’t really worn it in awhile, but I can’t get rid of it because what if I want to wear it again soon? I think if I convert my closet to mostly things I’ve made & am proud of, I will be less afraid to get rid of old clothing. This, I suppose, is ironic- I’m making things to get rid of things! But I really believe if I make things I love, I’ll be more willing to get rid of things I’m ambivalent towards. It will also hopefully mean I use everything in my closet instead of just staring at it every now & then as I wage a war in my head (Keep it! Toss it! Donate it to a thrift shop! But I’ll NEED it one day!).

Recently, I’ve been a little obsessed with making hoodies- which actually has nothing to do with Trayvon Martin. I finally got this pattern I had seen & coveted months ago & have already made it up twice in one week. Here is the second & final  rendition, at least until I find some heavier knit fabric I like.

The lime green polka dotted hoodie, my second rendition of Burda 7433.

This mini-obsession is rather a good thing because I have a few older hoodies that are really starting to look their age. So, in accordance with my closet makeover goals, I’m off to a good start. It’s also nice to be able to justify the “need” to make something.

It's lime green so I'm more visible on my bike.

This week I also rearranged my garden & sowed dozens of seeds. It was a train wreck.  Really. And somehow I cleared everything up, organized all my junk & sowed a bunch of seeds in just two hours.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about keeping up the pace with which I make things- I seem to be going full steam ahead. And this is, after all, supposed to be fun.

Spring Planting

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted. So much has been going on with school, work, life in general & the passing of a friend. I haven’t felt too motivated to post, even though I’ve been doing a fair amount of sewing therapy to de-stress.

But finally, here is the first post that will make my blog live up to its name. It’s not about sewing; it’s about gardening.

Chicago has had crazy CRAZY weather. A few snowstorms & many below-freezing days this winter, but that’s all normal. What is not normal is 70 & 80F weather in MARCH. It’s not uncommon to still have to wear a jacket in May, but here I’ve been jacketless in March. CRAZY. Yes, summer has arrived. Yesterday I even went to the beach in a new summer dress I made.I’ll post on that later though.

I have a garden on my fire escape/balcony (almost all Chicago buildings outside of the downtown area have wooden fire escapes- you think we would have learned our lesson during the Great Fire). At the end of last summer I threw a bunch of excess beet & swiss chard seeds into a pot of dirt with the expectation that there would be just enough time to get some baby greens out of them. Well, I ended up not eating all of the greens.

The miraculous thing is that one of them survived our mild winter. This little baby green survived a few small snowstorms & the constant freezing & thawing that’s been going on for the past few months. I really hoped it would survive into the summer, but once the days started to hit the 60’s & 70’s the poor little thing shriveled up.

The little baby swiss chard plant that survived a Chicago winter, only to die once the weather got nice.

On Saturday the plant was still alive, although barely. I sowed some eggplant seeds around it & tried not to disturb it. I also sowed pepper, tomato, lettuce, basil & beet seeds in other containers. More will be planted once I finalize this year’s garden design. Sadly, the little plant has died since then. But I thought I’d share with you how amazing it was that a little swiss chard plant, only a few inches tall, survived a Chicago winter. Every time I saw it I smiled in amazement. I think we all need a little something to make us smile.