Archives for category: gardening

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Grow your own Herbs

spring

Footnote: You can actually eat the peel of fuyu persimmons, so this last step is optional. But, I always peel mine!

summer soupLate in the spring, I planted a tiny garden in a flower bed in front of my apartment.  Even though the entire garden only consists of eight or nine plants, it’s been a rewarding project. After weeks of watching my plants develop and blossom, it was finally time to harvest the vegetables. My tomato plant has done exceedingly well and the zucchini has also been fruitful. Of course, when everything ripens at once you’re left with quandary of what to do with the sudden influx of vegetables.

Duh-Ta-Dun-DAH! Mark Bittman to the rescue! I’ve been loving my copy of his book, How to Cook Everything. In it, I found the perfect recipe for the veggies from my garden. The recipe is for corn, tomato, and zucchini soup with basil.  I modified it a bit to my taste but it was really ideal for my harvest.  The only thing I had to buy from the market was a few ears of corn.

Soup!

Corn, Tomato, and Zucchini Soup with Basil

  • 2 cups fresh tomatoes  (cored, peeled, seeded and chopped.)
  • 2 zucchini, diced.
  • 1 medium onion, minced.
  • 4 ears of corn.
  • 1 tbs minced garlic.
  • 1/2 cup minced basil leaves.
  • 4 cups of vegetable stock.
  • 2 tbs of butter.
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese.
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar.
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
removing corn from cob

Step One: Remove the corn from the cob and set the kernels aside.

Step Two: Pour the stock in a large pot and add the cobs to the stock. Heat over medium and let the cobs simmer in the stock while you chop the rest of the vegetables.

Step Three: Chop the zucchini, mince the garlic and onion, and set aside.

Step Four: Prepare the tomatoes. This is the trickiest part, but done correctly it’s not so bad. First, you boil enough water to cover the tomatoes. Then core each tomato by slicing a wedge around the stem and remove the hard core. Next you slice an X at the butt of the tomato. Drop the tomatoes one at a time into the boiling water for about thirty seconds. Remove from the water and peel the skin off. It should come off easily. Next slice the tomato in half around its equator. Squeeze the tomato over a bowl and use your finger to pick out the seeds.  Then roughly chop.

preparing the tomato

Step Five: Place the butter in a large skillet and turn the heat to medium. Add the onion and cook for five minutes. Then add the tomatoes, zucchini, garlic, and salt and pepper. Cook for ten more minutes and stir occasionally.

Step Six: Remove the cobs from the stock and discard. Add half the vegetables to the stock. Puree the remaining half in a food processor before adding to the stock; this thickens the soup. Cook for five minutes more minutes and then remove from heat.

Step Seven: Stir in the corn kernels, basil, parmesan cheese, and balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve!

I absolutely love this soup. The flavor is fresh and slightly sweet from the corn and basil. The fresh corn also adds a satisfying crunch.  So even though you’re eating your fresh veggies in a soup, you don’t miss out on their straight-from-the-garden crispness. This is truly one of my favorite things I’ve ever made.  Just writing about it makes me want some! I think I’ll make this again tonight. Enjoy, everyone!

little city gardensLast week I spent an enjoyable afternoon helping out on an urban farm in the Mission District of San Francisco. The farm, Little City Gardens, is run by two lovely ladies: Caitlyn Galloway and Brooke Budner. I know Caitlyn from New Bohemia Signs, where we are both part-time sign painters. I’ve been hearing about her farming endeavors  around the shop for the past year and it was exciting to finally go check out the farm.

For most of the last year, Caitlyn and Brooke have been fighting legislation that required an expensive and difficult to acquire conditional-use permit to sell vegetables that were grown in the city. The pricey permit put a damper on their experiment to make urban framing economically viable.  Instead of shelling out they decided to challenge the law and pave the way for urban agriculture in San Francisco. Their legislative battle captured both local and national attention, even getting a write up in the New York Times last May. I’m excited to report that the girls won! April, 20th Mayor Ed Lee signed into law a bill allowing urban agriculture in San Francisco. The signing ceremony was held at Little City Gardens.

Green house

The afternoon I spent on the farm was the day before Mayor Ed Lee was coming to sign the new urban ag bill into law. What impressed me most was the sense of community on farm. The lot is nestled in the middle of a neighborhood in the Mission District and throughout the day neighbors stopped by to give their congratulations to Brooke and Caitlyn. There were also a handful of neighbors volunteering their time to help with farm duties. This is the beautiful thing about urban agriculture: it connects people to their food and the people who grow it. It’s eating local at its best.

Brooke watering the veggies

I really enjoyed getting my hands dirty and doing some hard physical labor. I made some new friends and I learned a lot too. Richard, a fellow volunteer, showed me how to identify invasive fennel, wild turnips, and wild black berries. It’s easy to get disconnected from where food comes from and spending a day farming is a humbling reminder to be appreciative of the food you eat.

While Caitlyn and Brooke have succeeded in paving the way for urban agriculture in San Francisco it is still illegal here in the East Bay. Novella Carpenter, an urban farmer in Oakland has recently run into some trouble with the city for selling vegetables from her garden. So there’s still work to be done. It’s time to put food production back into the hands of the people, not government subsidized industrial agriculture. Support urban agriculture in your area and while you’re at it, plant a few vegetables of your own.

basil and green pepper seedlings I’m growing a little vegetable garden in front of my apartment. It’s a tiny little plot of earth that I hope will yield a little produce in the coming months. Even though the garden is only about 5’x5′ I’m trying to squeeze as much out of the little space as possible. I’ve planted tomatoes, squash, cucumber, green beans, green pepper, basil, and strawberries.

Today, I transplanted the green pepper, basil, and strawberries that I started from seeds into my garden. I felt like I was sending my kids to college. For the past 5-6 weeks they’ve been living safely in front of a window, indoors. But I today I sent them out into the big world full of snails and who knows what else that could wreak havoc on their tiny leaves. I’m being melodramatic but with such a tiny garden, it’s high stakes. Each plant counts!

This garden is a fun experiment. I don’t have a particularly green thumb and this is my first attempt at growing vegetables. I’m not one of those people that can kill a plant just by looking at it but I do tend to over water and make similar mistakes. When I was little, I tried to plant sunflowers every spring but none of them ever made it.  I would stand over them, in awe of germination and admire their little cotyledon leaves. Inevitably, I would end up petting the little fuzzy leaves. They were just so cute!  But I guess I didn’t pet very gently because I would always end up crushing them. My Mom thought this was hilarious and would have to explain to me through her giggles why my plants weren’t growing. When I told her recently I was planting a vegetable garden, the first thing she said was “Just try not to pet them to death.” vegetable from my gardenI’m trying not  to let my expectations get too high. I am a novice gardener after all, I’m sure there will be mistakes to learn from. But I’m already looking forward to caprese salad with fresh basil and tomatoes, sweet strawberries and cream, and delicious and refreshing cucumber salads. Does anyone have good gardening tips for beginners like myself?

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